Darjeeling’s tea estates fear lower production of the premium first flush as the hill town faces a dry spell with temperatures higher than usual for this time of the year.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Monday issued heat wave warnings for several parts of India, including West Bengal. The temperature in Darjeeling nowadays is 3-4 degrees Celsius higher than normal, said B K Laskar, senior advisory officer, Tea Research Association (TRA), Darjeeling Advisory Centre. “That has reduced atmospheric humidity which is the main culprit.”
“Rains are crucial for Darjeeling tea harvest. There were isolated rains on Monday but only enough to moist the surface soil. On Friday too there is a forecast for showers. Even if it happens, it’s unlikely to make up for the prolonged dry spell,” said Laskar.
S Sannigrahi, senior principal scientist at TRA, said the rainfall in March and April in Darjeeling hills was uneven. “Though the same was sufficient to make up the deficit for the last five months for a number of gardens but some gardens are still with a deficit. The rainfall received late will not be able to make up the loss of the first flush crop totally. The first flush is likely to be deficient by at least 25 per cent compared with the last year because the weather condition in last year was exceptionally favourable for crop."
Summer’s first flush, or plucking, is Darjeeling’s most prized tea harvest. Along with the second flush, also premium, it makes up for about 35-40 per cent of the annual production in Darjeeling.
A delicate balance of sunshine, rainfall, and elevation that shape the making of premium Darjeeling tea has run into the impact of climate change. The temperature was unusually low at the end of March and early April, said Ashok Lohia, chairman, Chamong group, the largest producer of Darjeeling tea, said.
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“Last four or five days, the temperature has been rising which is good for production. But in the next 5 to 10 days, we need rain to cool it off. If it doesn’t happen, we may be faced with a second drought,” he said.
“Our crop in Darjeeling is down by 20-25 per cent in the month of April due to heat wave and no rains. Things are not good in Dooars (North Bengal) also,” said Atul Asthana, managing director and chief executive officer of Goodricke Group.
“The dry weather will give rise to pest incidence, which again will impact the crop. So, it’s a double whammy right now,” Asthana said.
Assam is reporting a dry spell too but the situation is better than Darjeeling.
“We are concerned that at the onset of the season there are drought-like conditions in Darjeeling. This is going to have adverse fallout on the crop. Certain pockets in Dooars and Assam, Cachar in particular, are also impacted,” said Arijit Raha, secretary general of Indian Tea Association.
Darjeeling’s problems have been brewing the past few years, caused by low production, waning demand and labour absenteeism. The average auction price in 2022 was Rs 341.26, a kg compared to Rs 365.45 a kg in 2021.
6.64 mn kg: Annual tea production in Darjeeling in 2022
of annual production in Darjeeling are first and second flush
less production of first flush likely as compared to last year
Dry spell from early October to mid-March; uneven rain in March and April