A shortage of granular urea in South India has triggered concerns among the tea growers, who fear the beverage’s output could be impacted, if the scarcity persists in the season ahead. Also, a sharp increase in prices of muriate of potash (MoP) has added to their concerns.
While efforts are being made to encourage the use of nano urea, growers said the efficacy of the nutrient is yet to be fully established in the case of tea. “There’s some scarcity on the availability of urea and it is a concern. If the scarcity continues in the weeks ahead it will impact the tea crop,” an industry source said. Urea is applied in multiple rounds in tea gardens and growers are set to take up the application of the nutrient from March onwards depending on the pre-monsoon showers.
Kerala Agriculture Department officials maintained that the State has supplied required quantities of urea, MoP, DAP and complex fertilisers. However, Y.C.Stephen, State president of the Small Tea Growers Association, Kattappana, countered the claims of the State government officials, saying small tea growers are facing acute shortage of fertilisers such as urea and potash.
Out of the 20,000 small time growers in Idukki, Stephen said only less than one per cent received the required quantities of fertilisers by the beginning of 2022. Besides the urea scarcity, rising prices of MoP is also hitting small and medium growers hard, he said. MoP prices have almost doubled to ₹34,000 a tonne.
A senior official in a leading tea manufacturing company in Kerala said the shortage of urea and doubling of MoP prices will make manure application unaffordable, which will, in turn, affect production going forward. Nano urea has only been recommended by scientists only for foliar application as of now and not for soil application. So, nano urea for the time being cannot replace urea, the official said.
IFFCO sources said the nano urea is a substitute for the conventional urea application. Therefore, wherever urea can substitute nano urea, although the replacement percentage will vary as it depends on different soil and crop factors, they said.
“Tea is a long-duration plantation crop and conventional urea is applied 4-5 times (Basal/Drenching/Foliar) at different pruning stages and unpruned stages. Based on farmer field/ growers’ experience 25-50 per cent replacement of conventional urea with nano urea is possible. Tea estates at their level have also conducted encouraging trials and also purchased nano urea. Long term scientific trials with UPASI & TRA Tocklai, Guwahati are in process for gaining growers confidence,” IFFCO sources said.
Not an alternative
N Lakshmanan, a senior planter from Coonoor, said nano urea is not a complete alternative for granular urea as far as perennial crops such as tea are concerned. “Granular urea is a must for certain root activity in tea. Theanine is a compound that’s responsible for catechins in tea, which gives the flavonids in tea, is produced in the root zone. If Theanine is not produced in the root zone, the flavonid catechin will start dwindling.
Catechin is one of the most sought after components for the wellness industry. By spraying nano urea, will a reverse engineering takes place, say from the foliar zone will the nano urea trickle to the root zone to produce this compound. This has to be studied. Unless and until a detailed long-term study is done, we cannot afford to completely forget granular urea,” Lakshmanan said.
In the Nilgiris, the allocation of urea been reduced by around 20 per cent this year with a view to replace it with natural and organic manures for making the Nilgiris district an organic district, said H N Sivan, member of the Nilgiris District Integrated Small Tea Farmers Committee. Total intake of urea in Nilgiris is about 1,400 tonnes per year. The scarcity of urea is unlikely to have any impact on the output as small farmers apply it in very less quantity, he said. Moreover, urea is being replaced with natural manure, Sivan added.
February 18, 2022