Pepper production next season (beginning in November) is likely to be lower as last year’s drought and continuous rainfall during July-September have affected the vines.

“We are yet to begin the process to estimate the crop. But this year, the crop has been affected by drought as well as continuous rain,” said a Spices Board official.

This season, pepper production has been estimated at 55,000 tonnes against 48,000 tonnes last season.

“Pepper production is expected to be between 37,000 and 42,000 tonnes (next season), significantly lower than the 2012-13 crop size,” said Hanish Kumar Sinha, Head - Trade and Commodity Intelligence Group of National Collateral Management Services Ltd.

The crop prospects are weak next season since production is expected to drop sharply both in Kerala and Karnataka, which account for 75 per cent of the crop in the country.

This season, Karnataka is projected to have produced 16,000 tonnes of pepper and Kerala 16,500 tonnes. Tamil Nadu’s output has been pegged at 10,000 tonnes.

“Our expectation is that it will be below 40,000 tonnes,” said Hemanand Kishore, an exporter in Kochi.

The prolonged dry period since September-October last year until June when the monsoon began to lash the growing areas is seen as the main reason for the poor crop.

“Between July and September, growing regions in Kerala, particularly Wayanad, and Karnataka received continuous rainfall. Even now, rain is lashing those areas and it is not good for the crop,” said an official of the United Planters’ Association of Southern India (Upasi).

Some of the growing areas received nearly double the rainfall during July and September.

“Most of the plantations have been affected by weather conditions since last October. This could create shortage,” said the Spices Board official.

Besides weather-related problems, the crop has also been affected by root wilt and quick wilt diseases.

“The quick wilt disease has hit the crop badly in Wayanad areas,” said the Upasi official.

Diseases in pepper vines are acute in Kerala, affecting production. Though pepper is grown in over 1.71 lakh hectares in the State, production is less than 20,000 tonnes.

On the other hand, Karnataka is producing a similar quantity on just 20,000 hectares of land.

“No one seems to be taking care of the vine in Kerala whereas planters in Karnataka do care,” said Kishore.

Globally, too, pepper production has been estimated lower at 3.17 lakh tonnes for the current calendar year against 3.27 lakh tonnes last year by the International Pepper Community.

“Indonesia and Vietnam have produced more this year,” said Sinha.

It could be difficult to meet rising domestic and export demand due to the poor crop prospect. This has resulted in prices surging over 25 per cent since May 23 when they slipped to the year’s low of Rs 35,061 a quintal.

On Friday, pepper was quoted at a record high of Rs 44,600 in Kochi.

On the National Multi Commodity Exchange, pepper for delivery in November closed at Rs 44,500 and on the Indian Pepper and Spice Trade Association exchange, the November contract ended at Rs 44,700.

“Expectation of a lower crop and increased export demand is expected to keep prices bullish with increased volatility,” said Sinha.

The Spices Board official said supplies could be met by the produce held back by some growers.

“Farmers are holding pepper expecting prices to rise. It could prove to be handy now,” he said.

“The crop will rebound next year because of the rains,” said the Spices Board official.

Higher prices are also seen encouraging growers to go in for better crop management practices.

(This writer was in Kodagu at the invitation of Tata Starbucks)