El Nino effect expected to hurt plantation crops this year


by Steve A. Morrell

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York has forecast an El Nino effect would affect parts of Asia and Australia, a prediction confirmed by the Australian Meteorological Department.

Countries in Asia and Australia are expected to experience warm dry weather as a result while South America will receive more rain than usual.

However the Meteorological Department in Colombo said this week that thunder showers would be experienced mid-March and warned against storm conditions and lightening damage.

Tea and rubber growers were apprehensive that rainy weather would persist and that receding water levels in catchment areas of Hatton, and Maskeliya signalled that this year would not be good for most agricultural produce. Coconut has already taken a low rainfall hit in many of the growing areas.

CEO John Keells Sudath Moonasinghe commented that he too was of the view that El Nino was imminent but given the showers being experienced now, he was thinking of the dangers of too much rain.

CEO Forbes & Walker Commodity Brokers ( Rubber) Dhammika Perera responding to questions said that the International Rubber Consortium Report on imminent El Nino could not be discounted. Already the water table in rubber lands had receded and clearly reduced crop was being experienced.

Also, manufacture of crepe and other types of rubber required uninterrupted water supplies. Many factories suspended manufacture two days each week to conserve available water.

A tea estate owner with a property overlooking the Mousakelle reservoir, confirmed that the drought had taken its toll. Asked how he had survived the drought if it was as bad as he said, he explained that weather conducive to manufacturing quality tea and good prices had kept him viable; but he said he was not under any illusion that this would last.

He agreed that the possibility of a severe El Nino could not be ruled out.

He remembered that when a similar El Nino effect hit the plantations in 1983, it took the industry two years to emerge from the crisis.

Discussing the picture on the rubber estates, Dhammika Perera said currently wintering rubber lands were seeing slow foliage rejuvenation and recovery would take longer than expected.

Meanwhile, the CEO of a company with extensive oil palm plantations said his company expected an El Nino ‘strike’ and had taken precautionary measures. He agreed indicators were progressively signaling that 2014 would be an El Nino year and there will be severe repercussions.

Agricultural commodity prices would increase due to supply shortages, he expected and warned there may not be sufficient rubber to supply the local demand by manufacturing industries. Already larger manufacturing companies have started importing their shortfall to ensure that export orders were met.

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