Argentina Harvest Underway

The Argentine tea harvest in Misiones (above) and Corrientes provinces begins in November.

MISIONES, Argentina

Argentina’s tea harvest began in November with good rains and will continue until April when the Northern Hemisphere first harvests its tea.

The country is the largest supplier of tea to the U.S. market, exporting 54 million kilos in 2016. This is about 70 percent of the 78 million kilos of mainly black CTC (crush, tear, curl) produced last year. Most of the tea is blended in the U.S. to make iced teas for food service.

Roberto Swier manages the Picada Libertad cooperative in Misiones, he writes that “this campaign started quite well because it is raining a lot, which makes harvesting harder but improves yields.”

Winter was difficult with heavy frost, he said. The tea bushes in northern Argentina, are hearty hybrids of the high yield Assam and China varietals. “The price that leaf producers are getting is approximately 8 cents per kilo. This price covers the expenses and little more for the most efficient farms with good production, but the majority hardly survives,” according to Swier.

“At that price you have to be a driver of the truck, climb the combine, you have to do everything,” producer Cristian Klingbeil told El Territorio. The Agrarian Federation in Misiones estimated that producing a kilo of tea in 2016 cost 4.37 pesos (25 cents).

Swier said shipments are now at the end of past contracts. “The new crop being made now generally contracts for delivery in February and March. We are hoping there are sufficient funds (at the cooperative) to pay for the green leaf, he writes.

“Of course the four big firms that dominate our market finance themselves but they also follow the game. Finlays Argentina recently bought Casa Fuentes the largest tea producer in Misiones,” he said. “A company so important in the world like that  can help us get orders, or make all the small producers that are here disappear. Time will tell,” writes Swier.

Last November in Obera the Ministry of Agribusiness announced a major project to implement food quality management for tea making at the five cooperatives and eight SMEs (small and medium enterprises) that make up a tea cluster that harvests about 90 percent of the tea grown in South America. Tea production from all nine countries in South America totals about 2 percent of the global harvest of 5 billion kilos.

According to press reports José Luis Garay, Minister of Agriculture and Production, highlighted the quality and positioning of Argentine tea in the world and added that “the great challenge we have as a government and with an important group of industrialists is to see how we operate with our product in the international market.”

“Today, we are practically dependent on the American market where we concentrate the majority of our exports,” said Garay.

Argentina produces some of the cleanest tea in the world with little herbicide and pesticide use and good agricultural process. The project will help growers “achieve the certification of quality and responsibility standards, social and environmental issues that are internationally recognized. This not only implies guaranteeing the safety of the product, but also improves working and environmental conditions in the establishments of the producers and in the tea-making plants.”

“Personally, I think Argentina has a great opportunity as a producer of tea in the world, but unfortunately there is no coherent state policy in this regard and generally more measures are taken to increase the collection of taxes than for the development of production,” said Swier.

Source: 6 Digital, International Tea Committee