Kochi: Heavy summer rains in Kerala have had a mixed effect on the plantation crops here, with rubber and cardamom growers cheering but pepper and coffee farmers worried about lost crop.
For rubber growers, the mid-March showers mean they can tap the trees for longer with better yield.
Washed away: A man examines coffee beans at a plantation on the outskirts of Bangalore. Summer rains in Karnataka and Kerala left coffee-growers worried as it hit their crops during the flowering season.
J.K. Thomas, a rubber committee member of the United Planters’ Association of Southern India (UPASI), said under normal conditions, rains fell around the start of summer when tapping of the trees for latex is usually suspended.
The rains are now expected to boost the yield per rubber tree to about 70-80gm per day, much higher than the usual summer yield of about 5-10gm per day, said Thomas, a planter himself.
Rubber production in the country has been declining in recent years, plagued by high labour costs. However, favourable weather conditions in November and December helped increase rubber production to 725,000 tonnes at the end of January 2008, which is still a drop from the 759,000 tonnes produced between April 2006 and January 2007.
Natural rubber production is pegged at 825,000 tonnes in fiscal 2007-08, down from 853,000 tonnes a year ago.
Growers of cardamom, for which the season stops around end February or early March, also see the rains as a blessing, especially as government trade promotion body Spices Board had projected a 15% drop in production during 2007-08.
The plucking season for the crop has ended and the board forecast production at 9,700 tonne in fiscal 2007-08, down from 11,235 tonne last year. Farmers had estimated the decline at about 30%, mainly due to a dry spell in early 2007 followed by heavy monsoon rains that damaged the plants.
The summer showers should see cardamom production go up substantially, said T.T. Jose, a cardamom grower and managing director of Mas Enterprises, an auction centre in Idukki district of southern Kerala.
The rains, which covered cardamom-growing areas in Tamil Nadu as well, have rejuvenated the cardamom plants, which should result in better yield in the next plucking season between August and February.
Still, another bout of heavy summer showers could be damaging, Jose warned. Meteorological reports have forecast another spell of shorter summer showers.
The rains have not been as pleasant for coffee growers in Karnataka and Kerala, as the showers came around the flowering season.
The extended spell was a deterrent for pollination and will result in lower yields, said Anil Bhandari, a coffee grower and member of the Coffee Board.
In the coffee-growing Wayanad district of Kerala, the plucking of the crop had to be abandoned, said K. Moidu, president of Wayanad Coffee Growers Association. Nearly 10% of the crop was left unplucked and a good part of the beans could not be dried, he said.
Pepper, too, suffered as the rains were untimely for the vines, which need the stress of summer for a good yield. Pepper exports in fiscal 2007-08 had zoomed to 31,750 tonne worth Rs466.38 crore till February, but farmers fear the rains will lead to a drop in crop as was the case last year.
In 2006-07, pepper exports from India were 26,415 tonne worth Rs276.79 crore.