Tea output may fall 25% due to dry spell

KOLKATA: India’s tea production is likely to decline about a fourth in May from a year ago owing to the ongoing dry spell in Assam and West Bengal. This is the time of the year when production of second flush tea, which constitutes bulk of the country’s tea crop, starts picking up.

“The weather is very dry in Assam and West Bengal and it is affecting tea crop,” said Indian Tea Association chairman Azam Monem. “This sort of weather condition is prevailing from the second week of May. It should rain now. The crop in May will be 20-30 per cent lower because of weather.”

In May last year, Assam’s tea estates had produced 62.53 million kg of tea while the estates in West Bengal had produced 33.17 million kg. Total production in May 2017 was 123.51 million kg. South Indian tea estates produced the rest.

Monem said prices of quality teas have shot up 10-15 per cent. However, prices of medium quality teas remain flat as the market is being fed by unorganised small tea growers.

In 2017, India had produced a record crop of 1,321.76 million kg and small growers contributed 47 per cent of the total production. In north India (Assam and West Bengal) small tea growers produced 506.98 million kg while organised players produced 580.13 million kg. In south, organised players produced 121.40 million kg while small tea growers produced 113.25 million kg. “There is oversupply of teas at the medium and lower ends of the market which is pushing down prices. Prices of these teas have fallen flat,” said an executive of Calcutta Tea Traders’ Association (CTTA).

Second flush production has been late this year, said Monem. “It is a week late. We are hoping that weather will improve so that second flush teas that are exported and also consumed in the local market do not get affected,” he said. Exports pick up from June for second flush teas. So far India exported small quantities of teas to Pakistan and West Asia. In 2017, India exported 251.91 million kg of tea. The CTTA official said there is strong demand for quality teas. “Big blenders will become more active when second flush teas enter the market. Prices will further improve then. The biggest concern is the minimum wage issue.”