Nerada Tea, the largest producer of Australian-grown tea, is just one of several farms experiencing weather extremes as preparations for Australia’s tea harvest begin.
It is winter in the Southern Hemisphere and the Bureau of Meteorology reports an unusually fierce and damaging frost. A July storm brought winds of 125 kilometers per hour, the result of Antarctic air blasting north from the South Ocean. The spring harvest runs Sept. 1 through November with a first flush prized as much as the March harvest in northern tea lands.
Nerada plantation director Tony Poyner, told The New Daily severe frosts, followed by a prolonged dry period over the past 12 months, have decimated the tea plantation located in Far North Queensland, wiping out nearly 50% of the black tea yield.
The harsh weather conditions and resulting crop devastation has cost the 360-hectare farm – located on the Atherton Tablelands near Cairns – close to AUD$1 million in production losses, according to Poyner.
The Guardian reports that across much of Australia “dramatic climate events are compounding the effects of underlying global heating.”
In July a Rabobank reported global weather continues to be “highly unusual”, with drought forcing Australia to import wheat for the first time in more than a decade.
“Extreme climate events such a heatwaves, floods and drought damaged 45% of the marine ecosystems along Australia’s coast in a seven-year period,” according to researchers at CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency. A study of the nation’s 8,000 kilometer coast by CSIRO found climate events were exacerbating the effects of human-induced climate change.
“All of the people around the country working on these systems for years have done a great job of documenting the impacts and repercussions,” Russ Babcock, the study’s lead author, said.
“If you stand back and have a look at how many [climate events] have happened between that period of 2011 to 2017, it really backs up that it’s not just the Great Barrier Reef that we have to think about. It’s all around the country.”
Coastal tea farms
Australia’s tea producing areas are in South West Victoria, Northern New South Wales, Tasmania, and Western Australia. Nerada faces the Great Barrier Reef along a picturesque coastal strip. Several of Australia’s tea farms are in Queensland. These include Nucifora which borders Nerada and Arakai Estate in Bellthorpe, Queensland.
Almost all the tea consumed in Australia is imported. India is the largest supplier (230 metric tons), followed by Sri Lanka (171 metric tons) and Indonesia (137 metric tons). By comparison only a few minor specialty teas were imported from Japan. The sources of imports reflect the established historical preference of Australians for breakfast teas in the English style, writes Sharyn Johnston, founder of Australian Tea Masters.
Australia ranks 55 globally for per capita consumption. Imports amount to 97% of consumption, according to Tea Journey’s Australia Harvest Review. The total consumer market for 2018 was almost exactly $500 million. Growth is estimated to be just under 2% per annum.
“It’s been a tough year in Australian agriculture – a sunburnt country of flooding rains that suddenly halted an extended drought in Queensland and created a new set of disasters in the process as the barren earth disappeared under an inland sea,” wrote Nerada.
“The cyclone season is an additional challenge for farmers in our home state. Ex-Tropical Cyclone Owen broke records when it dumped more than 700 millimeters of rain in 24 hours in some parts of Far North Queensland just a week before Christmas last year,” according to the Nerada blog.
“Most businesses would look to cut costs as a result. But we continue to stand by our employees, many who have been with us for decades, so that we remain a viable part of the local economy,” said Tony Poyner.
“While production has been significantly reduced, we’ve kept everyone on the payroll. The team is still here, and the machinery has never looked so sharp,” he said.