Dipping mercury levels in high ranges after a short break has once again started affecting tea plantations in Munnar.

Sources in the tea industry said the continuing frost has brought damage to tea bushes with a crop loss of around 550 acres of tea gardens in the Munnar region. However, the amount of the loss is yet to be assessed, but it is pointed out that tea leaves have largely wilted in various estates.

The month’s lowest temperature of -1°c was recorded at some places at Chenduvarai. The Upasi Tea Research Foundation said the temperature in Letchmi Estate, Sevenmalai was zero while that of Munnar, Devikulam recorded 1 degree. The widening of the temperature range (rising day and declining night temperature) was likely to impact thermo-sensitive crops such as tea which isgrown across the high ranges.

Lower arrivals

Of late, tea auction centres are receiving lower quantities for the trading sessions because of declining production and the auctioneers Forbes, Ewart & Figgis said the offered quantities in Kochi, Coimbatore and Coonoor auctions put together was down by 20 per cent from January to mid-February.

YC Stephen, president of the Idukki Small Tea Growers Federation, told businessline that the situation in Vandiperiyar and Peermedu is worse, with damaging both buds and drying of leaves in the last few days. After being hit in the beginning of the New Year in the harsh winter, the situation came to normal by mid-January.

He also alleged that tea-producing companies might take the emerging situation as an opportunity to bring tea leaves from other parts such as Wayanad and Tamil Nadu to meet their production requirements. This would further depress the prices of bought tea leaves in the region where the farmers are getting ₹14.88 per kg. The frost, according to him, has turned out to be double whammy for small tea growers by way of both crop damage and likely drop in prices.

However, K Dhananjayan, president of Nilgiris Bought Leaf Tea Manufacturers Association, said they are not experiencing a frost-like situation but the dropping mercury levels at night and very hot temperatures during the day have led to lower crop. Because of the lower crop from the gardens, he said factories are operating only two times a week with an average of 25,000 kg of bought tea leaves compared with 50,000 kg in the normal times.

Right now, Nilgris is not experiencing any frost-like conditions. But they are anticipating a 20 per cent decline in the February crop because of wintery conditions during January-end, which affected 250 hectares. But the situation is different in Munnar with around 550 hectares being affected due to extreme climatic conditions. This would hit production with a 25-30 per cent drop in Munnar alone, officials at UPASI said.