The Tea Board of India has for the first time established a start date for plucking tea.
Mandating a period of dormancy in winter to improve quality, the Tea Board subsequently determined that Feb. 11, 2019 is the earliest tea can be plucked for the first flush. The order applies to gardens in Bengal and Bihar.
Plucking will commence Feb. 18 in the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur. Tea pluckers in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand must wait until February 28.
Leaf quality improves when trees are permitted to rest. Cold weather benefits the harvest when temperatures remain around 40 degrees (5 Centigrade) for short periods. Planters last week were very pleased at the arrival of winter weather including the first measurable snowfall in Darjeeling in a decade.
“Tea is a chill loving tree,” tea scientist Dr. S. E. Kabir told the Economic Times.
In October the tea board decided that manufacturing should cease by mid December but was undecided on when processing should begin in spring. Variables include rain and the early arrival of warm temperatures. The first flush generally begins in mid February and extends through March followed by a second flush which continues until the arrival of the monsoons. The final autumn harvest ends in early December.
India’s first harvest of the year generates about 20 percent of green leaf totals but accounts for 30 percent of revenue. Stakeholders discussed the mandatory pluck date at length and the board agreed to some flexibility in following historical patterns.
However, “early cropping because of favorable weather conditions/other factors and starting of manufacturing before the timeline must be brought to the notice of the board prior to the commencement of such activity,” according to the board.
“The industry is hopeful that after a successful closure (December 15) better quality teas will reach the market in March end and fetch better prices, which will indirectly ensure better wages for those engaged in the plantations,” a board official told The Telegraph.
Halting the late season harvest was a priority as by that point the trees are exhausted.
“Bad quality tea produced in violation of the (Food Products Standard and Food Additives) norms in winter has caused considerable damage to the name and reputation of Indian tea among customers. Indian tea is known for its quality, flavor, aroma, briskness and creamy mouth feel and presence of such bad quality tea has become an impediment in increasing the export,” according to the board.
Sustained efforts to improve quality will lead to better prices, according to the board. Average prices have increased in the past month due in part to lower yields. October production was down nearly 7 percent to 150.55 million kilos, compared to 161.1 million kilos during the same period in 2017. India produced 1,117.6 million kilos during the January-October period. Teas that were selling for $1.45 per kilo last year are up 25-cents to $1.70 per kilo.