Darjeeling tea production loss to widen as rain damages second flush

Informist, Friday, Jun 11, 2021


By Avishek Rakshit


KOLKATA – Tea plantations in Darjeeling are bracing for huge losses as pre-monsoon rain has cut short the production of the coveted "second flush" crop. This year, tea output is likely to slip to 6.7 mln kg from 6.8 mln-7.5 mln kg recorded in the past five years.


Typically, the first flush, or the first plucking of the tea plant, begins early in March and lasts until mid-May. This is followed by the second flush, which starts in mid-May and lasts until July. But over the past five to six years, the second flush has been ending only in June.


This year, plantation owners recorded production loss of an estimated 1 mln kg, down 60%, during the first flush. Though the second flush started on a high note, unfavourable weather and changes in the crop cycle hit tea output.


"Climate change has been taking a toll on production and this year, the second flush can go on maximum for another week (until mid-June) as the rains have already arrived," Kaushik Basu, secretary at the Darjeeling Tea Association, told Informist.


He expects a production loss of 200,000-300,000 kg during the second flush.


Industry sources say Darjeeling tea is priced at 500-600 rupees a kg, largely unchanged from last year despite the huge losses suffered in the first flush.


There may be some recovery in the second flush, but it will not offset the overall loss, a tea exporter from Kolkata said.



Premium quality tea is produced in Darjeeling during the summer months. Once monsoon arrives, the crop quality deteriorates rapidly, although production volume increases.


Tea companies earn around 60-80% of their annual revenue from these two flushes. Mostly exported, first flush and second flush tea make up more than 40% of the total production in Darjeeling.


Annual tea production stood at 9 mln kg around a decade back, which has slumped nearly 25% in recent years.


A political stand-off in the region in 2017 resulted in Darjeeling losing more than 60% of its annual crop, Basu said. He added that this was made worse by change in the crop cycle the next year, which drove yield and quality lower.


Industry veterans say tea bushes take 5-7 years to adjust to a new crop cycle.


Further, weak global demand due to COVID-19 has sharply hurt any possibility of recouping losses in production by increasing tea prices.


Atul Asthana, managing director at the Camellia Plc-owned Goodricke Group Ltd, said almost the entire production from the first and second flushes is usually exported, and fetches very good prices.


Hit by the economic downturn, major importers from key markets like Germany, the UK and Japan are unwilling to pay higher prices.




Edited by Charumathi Sankaran


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