Lockdown crimps Bengal, Assam tea production 10%

Industry executives said that new leaves, due for plucking, were left untouched since March 22 after the lockdown took effect.

Agencies
The worst hit will be the Darjeeling tea industry that has not been able to sell its first flush teas due to travel bans and lockdown in Europe, the main market for its exquisite first flush crop.
Kolkata: The Indian tea industry is set to lose nearly a tenth of its usual output for the year as estates in West Bengal and Assam are locked down through three vital weeks of the production cycle, with the first-flush crop due for plucking through the early spring likely to be overgrown by mid-April.

“The lockdown will affect tea production in Assam and West Bengal, the two main tea producing regions of the country in a big way. The estimated loss will be around 150 million kg of tea,” said Tea Board chairman PK Bezboruah. “The revenue loss for Assam and West Bengal tea estates will be no less than 12%. The tea leaves will overgrow, affecting the quality during the second flush that begins mid-May.”

In 2019, India had produced around 1,400 million kgs of tea.


Industry executives said that new leaves, due for plucking, were left untouched since March 22 after the lockdown took effect. The gardens will remain non-operational until mid-April, going by the current timetable.

“Skiffing of tea bushes will take another three weeks when the gardens reopen after the lockdown is withdrawn. That is when the gardens will take a big hit,” said Sujit Patra, secretary, Indian Tea Association. “Moreover, from December 15 to February 15, the gardens were closed for maintenance and pruning of the bushes but the planters had to bear the overhead costs. And just when the new season had begun, the coronavirus started spreading across India. So, from December 15, there has only been cash outflow, while inflow has been very little.”

The worst hit will be the Darjeeling tea industry that has not been able to sell its first flush teas due to travel bans and lockdown in Europe, the main market for its exquisite first flush crop.
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Kaushik Basu, secretary of Darjeeling Tea Association, said that nearly 35% -40% of Darjeeling tea industry’s revenue comes from first flush tea that constitutes 20%-25% of Darjeeling’s total production of 8.9 million kgs. The average price of first flush Darjeeling tea ranges from Rs 2,000 to Rs 4,000 per kg.

“Reports trickling in from estates say that from Monday onward, there will be good flush as temperature is rising in the hills. It means that bushes will start generating good quality leaves. But since there will be no plucking, the leaves will overgrow. We have already lost the first flush season. Now the second flush will also get affected,” Basu said. Meanwhile, the TN government has allowed manufacturing and production of tea in the Nilgiris district subject to specific restrictions and safety measures.

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