Link: Heat, storms seriously damage specialty crops | ShanghaiDaily.com
By: Xu Wenwen
Both consumers and farmers are expected to feel the pinch from recent bad weather as Hangzhou’s famous Longjing tea and hickory nuts have been savaged by heat and drought. Another specialty, lotus roots, have been damaged by strong storms recently. Xu Wenwen reports.
While the summer’s wild weather has been difficult, and even dangerous, for residents, it is also likely to hit many in the pocketbook.
Three important crops in Hangzhou — tea, hickory nuts and lotus — are expected to yield significantly less this year due to high temperatures and strong storms, growers and experts said.
Production losses are also expected to increase prices in many cases due to scarcity.
The area’s renowned Longjing tea has been “burned” yellow on the plant — at Longjing Village almost every tea bush looks yellow and green since half the leaves at the top of the tea plants have been damaged.
The leaves of hickory trees in Lin’an, Hangzhou, are drooping or have been scorched, and many of the hickory nuts have either fallen off before maturing or will fall off when touched.
Though storms with heavy wind and rain swept Hangzhou last week, they were too late to stop the damage. In some cases they actually did more damage, breaking lotus leaves and hurting the growth of lotus roots. Lotus is eaten as a vegetable, and many parts of the plant are used.
“Over 30 percent of tea trees are burned, and the number will grow if the high temperature lingers,” said Shang Jiannong, director of Longjing Tea Industry Association of Xihu District in Hangzhou.
Tea bushes, especially young plants, get burned if the air temperature is over 35 degrees Celsius, experts said. The highs in Hangzhou have been 40 degrees or higher for many days since the latter part of July.
Plants have been damaged even though tea planters often pump water to irrigate the plants.
“It is certain that Longjing tea production will decrease next year,” says Sheng Yaoming, a tea planter in Longjing Village. “And it’s certain the price of the tea will increase, though right now it’s hard to say how much it will rise.”
Longjing tea, especially the first crop every year, named mingqian tea, is very expensive — the retail price of a kilogram of mingqian tea is around 10,000 yuan (US$1,630).
“So far there’s no effective method to relieve the problem,” said Shang with the association. “The only thing to do is to cut the yellow leaves off and wait for cooler weather.”
Also worried are hickory nut producers in Lin’an, a traditional producer of the nut (in Chinese shan hetao, literally meaning “hill nuts” since the trees grow on hills).
“For over a month, the hickory forest has been suffering from high temperatures coupled with drought,” said Wang Bolin, an official of Wucun Village in Lin’an’s Taiyang Town, an important production area.
Hills covered in thousands of hickory trees also look yellow and green.
Hickory fruits at the end of June, and the harvest starts in September. For the growing nuts, July and August are vital, “a time that they need water most,” said Wu Chuncai, a hickory planter.
Irrigating the trees is very difficult because of the hills, Wu said. He said it may take an hour to water one tree. The water is pumped from a reservoir 1 kilometer away, and “the stream is small, and the pressure is too low to make water reach trees on the upper part of the hill.”
The rain that hit most of Hangzhou last week did not reach Lin’an, to the west.
Last year, Wu and his family harvested almost 25,000 kilograms of hickory nuts, and this year, “I think 1,500 kilos would not be bad,” he said.
Wang estimated that the yield of hickory nuts this autumn will drop 70 percent, a huge problem for Wucun Village, where hickory provides most of the income.
What’s worse, “the scorched trees heal only after three years,” said Ding Lizhong, an expert on hickory trees and vice president of the Forestry Science and Technology Promotion Center of Lin’an.
“If the weather were normal, the yield would be 40-50 percent higher,” said Ding. “Also, the quality of the hickory nuts will undoubtedly go down because of the lack of water.”
While some worrying “no water,” some are worrying “too much water and wind.”
On Wednesday, strong winds hit Yuhang District, and on Thursday, similarly strong winds again swept the town. Lotus ponds were damaged.
August is harvest time for lotus roots — it’s when the best lotus roots of the year are harvested. Lotus farmers do not worry much about drought because the lotus ponds are low-lying and easily irrigated.
But too much water can kill lotus if the leaves are covered by water or broken by wind. That leaves the lotus roots with little nutrition, which can be fatal.
Ma Lianghao, who runs a lotus pond of 2 square kilometers in Yuhang, said his output of lotus roots is likely to fall 30-50 percent.
“The heat first weakened the lotus’ resistance, and then the wind broke them,” said the farmer, who has been growing lotus for more than a dozen years.
Ma said it’s the first time he’s experienced such a disaster.
“Since the quality of roots has declined, the farm is expected to lose over 200 yuan per square meter,” Ma said.
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