Kochi: The Tea Research Foundation (TRF) of the United Planters Association of Southern India (Upasi) is working on a weather-resistant variety of a tea bush called TRF-4 that will likely be released in a month or two, said an official at the foundation.

Sturdy varieties: A rubber plantation in Kerala. Untimely rain and long dry spells have forced researchers to develop new crop varieties. Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg

“If higher yield was the thrust for developing clones till now, climate change is a serious issue facing crops and we have to now develop clones that withstand such change," he said, adding that the yield from the new variety will only start after the fifth year of planting.

The Rubber Research Institute of India (RRII), a unit of the government’s Rubber Board, is conducting field trials for at least six drought-resistant clones of rubber trees in Maharashtra and Orissa. Untimely heavy rainfall interspersed with long dry spells has forced research institutes to look at developing new varieties that can adapt to changing weather patterns, say scientists.

Moreover, large-scale replanting exercises to remove senile tea bushes, some of which are at least 100 years old, and to raise productivity are being undertaken across plantations. This calls for newer varieties such as TRF-4, which is developed by cross-breeding two earlier clones, said Muraleedharan.

“The yield from a hectare planted with this variety is expected to be around 6,000-7,000kg when normal yield is about 3,000-4,000kg. Experiments have been on for quite some time now for this clone," he added.

David King, vice-president of the Kochi-headquartered AVT group that has tea and rubber plantations, said the 2,100ha tea division proposes to undertake replanting at 2-2.5% of its area annually and wants to look at new varieties that can withstand climate changes. TRF has another six clones in the pipeline that will likely be released over the next two-three years.

The new clone is of medium quality, unlike the TRF-2 variety released two years ago, which is most suitable for the higher quality variety of tea.

The rubber institute, which in 1980 released the widely planted rubber clone called RRII-105 that made India the global leader in productivity with a yield of 1,879kg per ha a year, is now undertaking field trials of six drought-resistant clones.

“Among the RRII-400 series released since 2005, the RRII-430 is slightly drought-tolerant," said James Jacob, director of the institute. However, he declined to say when the new drought-resistant clones would be released since field trials are still ongoing.

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