The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Weather plays foul with hill tea crop

Darjeeling, July 3: If drought-like conditions affected the Darjeeling tea industry during the first flush, excessive rainfall is playing spoilsport during the second and the resulting losses are already touching the Rs 25-crore mark.

The second flush starts at the end of May and continues till early July. Torrential rains in the tea-growing valleys across the hills during the past month, however, has reportedly led planters to lose as much as 25 per cent of the crop yield.

'Most of the tea-growing areas in Darjeeling experienced continuous rainfall for about 22 days from May 26 to June 15. Areas in Kurseong received about 14 days of continuous rainfall and there was very little sunshine,' said a committee member of the Darjeeling Tea Association.

Tea estate owners have estimated that in June alone the loss for the industry has been around Rs 8-9 crore. Normally the tea gardens in the hills produce about 35 lakh kg of made tea by the end of June and industry sources maintain that the Darjeeling gardens are lagging behind by almost 3.5 to 4 lakh kg this time.

Secretary of Darjeeling Tea Association Sandeep Mukherjee said: 'Some regions have reported 15-20 per cent crop loss while in other areas, the loss is as high as 30-40 per cent.'

The heavy rainfall has affected planters in more ways than one. Gardens like Banersbeg, which is situated in the northern part of the district, have experienced 9 cm more rainfall than in previous years. This has resulted in a decrease in average sunshine hours from 4.5 hours to 3.3 hours per day and a drop in the average maximum temperature by around 5 degrees Celsius. According to experts, this fluctuation in temperature and sudden change in climate is wreaking havoc with the tea bushes, which are extremely sensitive.

Apart from poor growing conditions and lack of sunshine, the rains have also resulted in an increase of pests infesting the gardens. Many gardens have reported attacks by pests such as red-spider, thrips and green fly, and this too is been attributed to the increase in rainfall.

'As many gardens here follow organic methods of cultivation, they do not use pesticides. This has made the situation worse. Though they are using various bio-degradable products, the rains are washing it away,' said Mukherjee. Of the 70 and odd tea gardens in the region, about 30 are already organic while many more are in the process of conversion.

In Darjeeling, which produces about 9.5 million kg of made tea every year, the weather conditions will probably force a lower profit figure this year.

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