Many of us spent Saturday—Earth Day—thinking about our planet and our role in caring for it.
So what about tea production? Any problems there? Should we be hoarding our favorite tea?!
From Damage in Darjeeling
During winter in Darjeeling, no tea is harvested, and the bushes are pruned to encourage new growth. Then in spring, warmer weather brings a burst of new leaves—the first flush so highly anticipated and valued.
Tea connoisseurs, of course, are thinking about first-flush Darjeeling’s incredible flavor.
A whole lot of other people, however, are more concerned about the economic ramifications of this first-flush harvest—because it accounts for around one-third of the year’s total tea value!
So just as farmers do everywhere, tea growers watch the weather. As quoted in the Economic Times (Sarkar 2017), scientist S. E. Kabir said:
Weather during this period plays [a] vital role behind quality and quantity of first flush. Tea is a chill loving plant and demands adequate humidity in air or soil. Less than normal humidity or above normal temperature can seriously retard metabolic function of bushes hampering its health rejuvenation.
This year, rainfall and humidity were first significantly lower, and temperatures significantly higher, than normal—followed by constant rain and no sunshine, which is equally detrimental to tea production (Ghosal 2017).
To Adversity in Assam
Meanwhile, over in Assam—one of the world’s largest tea-producing regions—heavy rains coupled with the failure of bushes to produce leaves are “likely to bring down total tea production by 30% during March, feel planters” (Ghosal 2017).
Sure, yearly fluctuations in weather are expected and normal. But are current weather problems normal?
Back in 2015 I wrote Assam Tea At Risk? Climate Change Threatens. And then, in 2016, Assam was beset:
–first by drought (bringing pests and plant loss)
–followed by heavy rains (plants didn’t get nutrients because there wasn’t enough sunlight, plus the sodden ground caused roots to rot)
–that brought widespread flooding (countless people were homeless with entire villages underwater)
Assam’s longer-term problems include:
- Rainfall and monsoons have become less predictable.
- Vacillations in rainfall are devastating to tea. A NASA program was designed to measure soil moisture (to allow smart irrigation)—but the equipment aboard the satellite malfunctioned (read more).
- Soil fertility has deteriorated.
- Lowland Assam tea is on the boundary of tea-growing regions, and so is the first affected by temperature increases (Kahn 2015).
- Tea is produced by hand, so over two million workers in Assam are affected when tea quality and quantity decline.
So Is Tea at Risk?
The writing may well be in the [lack of] tea leaves.
–Doshi, V. “Flooding in India affects 1.6m people and submerges national park,” The Guardian, July 27, 2016.
–Ghosal, S. “Rains wash off tea’s premium edge,” Economic Times, April 3, 2017.
–Kahn, B. “Global warming changes the future for tea leaves,” Scientific American, June 4, 2015.
–Sarkar, D. “Darjeeling’s high value first flush tea under trouble,” Economic Times, February 7, 2017.