Already 300 hectares have been affected
A clear sky and bright sunshine during the day and almost benumbing chillness after dusk. Even as these characteristic features of winter in this hill station are being enjoyed by certain classes of tourists and many of long-time residents, they have given a jolt to tea planters in a number of places.
Having played hide and seek over the last few years, high intensity frost during the current winter has become a major source of concern in many of the tea gardens in not only the frost prone areas but also some of the other places which had hitherto not experienced frost.
“It has taken us by surprise,” said D. Hegde, president, United Planters Association of Southern India (UPASI), here on Wednesday.
Pointing out that among the areas worst affected was Korakundah, he said the minimum temperature recorded there was minus. Describing it as one of the harshest winters in the last 25 years, he said that over 50 per cent of the 250 hectare Korakundah estate had been scorched.
Estates like Erinkadu which are not known to experience frost have now been affected. Since it will take over three months after the end of the frost season for the tea bushes to recover, production in all the frost hit areas will be affected. Suresh Jacob, chairman, Nilgiri Planters Association (NPA) said that frost has been unusually heavy in many of the tea gardens. It was similar or worse than the frost of 2008. Details pertaining to the losses suffered are in the process of being compiled.
Sources in the Tea Research Foundation of UPASI said that on many of the days since last month the minimum temperature had been zero degrees Celsius and below in tea gardens in Udhagamandalam and surroundings and hovering around 5 degrees Celsius in Coonoor and nearby areas.
Recalling that a few years ago about 800 to 900 hectares had been affected in the member estates of the UPASI, they feared that the present conditions were similar to then. Rough estimates reveal that already over 300 hectares have been affected in the frost prone and other areas.
To a query they said that the loss was equivalent to 125 to 150 kilograms of processed tea per hectare. To another question, they said that it was difficult to take precautionary measures as on the one hand brooms which were earlier used to provide shade to the bushes are now hard to come by and other there is a severe labour shortage.
Since water sources have dried up sprinklers cannot be used. J.Haldorai, Joint Director of Horticulture, said that out of about 56,480 hectares belonging to the small tea growers around 4,000 hectares particularly in Kundah zone have been mildly or severely hit.
He added that the yield in most of the frost hit tea estates was likely to come down severely till there was a change in the weather conditions.