Unfavourable weather, pest attack affect production

The prospects of a drop in output are looming large on the Indian tea industry partly on account of unfavourable weather conditions and partly due to a pest attack triggered by excessive moisture. Coming on the back of stagnant production since 2008, this may also affect exports but prices, especially that of quality tea, will rule at high levels both in the domestic and international markets.

The attack of the ‘helopeltis' pest has affected production in the tea estates in Assam, which accounts for 50 per cent of India's tea output. The pest attacks the leaves and multiplies fast.

The attack was triggered by spells of moist weather when there is hardly any sunshine, an industry source told The Hindu. Second flush teas grown during this period are among India's best teas and are usually headed for overseas custom.

The adverse production conditions coincided with the peak production season in North India. Source said that out of a 100-day period between May and June only 10 days were dry affecting the ‘South Bank' gardens in Assam.

According to figures collected by the Indian Tea Association (ITA) the industry apex body, in June alone, a crop loss of 6.5 million kg, among the highest in a single month, has been reported. The losses are expected to spill over to the current month too as the secretions left by the mosquito-like pest have damaged the stems which will now have to be pruned affecting crop output, since the tea shrub take at least a fortnight to grow again. Crop may at best stay at last year's level of 979 million kg, an ITA source said.

When contacted, sources at McLeod Russel India said that North India was estimated to have lost 10 million kg of crop between January and July. India produced about 234.9 million kg between April and May this year which was a 9 per cent increase. The increase came from South India.

Indian tea prices are ruling higher by Rs. 10 a kg in July this year as compared to the same month in 2009.

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