Siliguri, March 30: The first flush is here but not the cheer it brings with it.
Lack of rainfall and high, summer-like temperature have brought down the production of tealeaves, a worry for planters who expect at least 10 per cent of the total annual sales at this time of the year. A set-back in the beginning, growers fear, is likely to affect them the whole year unless of course there is considerable rise in price (chances of which are remote).
Statistics available with auction centres in Calcutta, Guwahati and Siliguri indicate a sharp fall in the sale of first flush (tea picked from mid-February to March end) because of low production. Not only that, though there is no brew in the market, the price has fallen by around Rs 10 per kg.
“Each planter aspires for a substantial sale during the first flush, when 10 to 12 per cent of the total yearly sale is recorded,” said N.K. Basu, the secretary of the Jalpaiguri tea auction centre who is also the adviser to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association. “If it does not rain in the next couple of days, the situation will worsen.”
Tea researchers, too, are keeping their fingers crossed. “Due to the abnormally low rainfall in March, the growth of tea bushes has suffered,” said Pradip Ghosh, the chief advisory officer posted at the Nagracata sub-station of the Tea Research Association. “In case the dry spell prevails, chances of attack by pests like leper caterpillar and red spider are high.”
On an average, planters claim, there has been a 10 to 20 per cent decline in production in the gardens this time.
This year, at the time of the traditional first sale, where new season tea is offered (see chart), only 3,000 packets (containing 40 kg each) were placed for auction in Calcutta compared to approximately 8,500 packets in the same sale in 2006. In Siliguri, the corresponding figure this time is 1,314 packets, which in 2006 was 22,344.
“There can be decline in production due to poor rainfall. But what has come as a surprise is the reduction in prices as well,” said Prabir Bhattacharya, the secretary of the Dooars Branch of Indian Tea Association.
Meteorologists, however, have promised chances of relief. “The dry weather in the past few days had raised the temperature,” said T.K. Chakrobarty, director of the regional Met Office in Jalpaiguri. “However, moisture has started entering the region from Thursday evening and if this continues, it would form a disturbance. We can then expect some rainfall.”