Press Note » Workshop on Mechanisation in Tea held at Tocklai

A workshop on Mechanisation in Tea was held at Tocklai Tea Research Institute, Jorhat on July 7, in association with OCHIAI Cutlery Manufacturing Co. Ltd., Japan and Zenith Forgings Pvt. Ltd. The workshop was organized to orient tea planters, including small growers and manufacturers of agricultural machineries, on the benefits and advantages of adopting mechanisation in tea cultivation.  Mr. Shingo Hattori, Area Manager (Europe), OCHIAI Cutlery Mfg. Co. Ltd, Japan attended the meeting as the Special Guest.

Inaugurating the event, Dr. A.K. Barooah, Director, Tocklai, welcomed the guests and participants to Tocklai and emphasized the importance of having such workshops for the greater good of the tea industry. Mr. S. Hattori too, expressed pleasure at being part of the workshop amidst tea scientists and other stakeholders of the tea industry.

During the Technical Session, Dr. A.K. Barooah highlighted the efforts put in by the TRA to propagate the use of mechanized plucking and pruning. Such efforts, he added, date back to the 1950s, when a prototype was developed at Tocklai and tested at the Borbhetta Experimental Garden. Although, the emphasis on such efforts had tapered off later, many recent experiments were undertaken at Tocklai and the R&D center at Nagrakata, to revive TRA’s thrust on mechanization in tea.

Dr. S. Baishya, Head, Agronomy Department, thereafter presented a brief chronology of the work done at Tocklai on the mechanization of important field operations such as harvesting, pruning etc. He described plucking as one of the most labour-intensive and expensive operations in tea, which requires steady availability of skilled workers. The dwindling number of labourers, he added, could not only impact the production volume, but also the quality of made tea. Dr. Baishya, highlighted the findings of the ongoing TRA-Kawasaki collaborative project on mechanized harvesting. This collaborative project, which was initiated in 2014, has suggested the July-September period as being the most favourable period for employing harvesting machines or shears in unpruned tea. He further revealed that while the June-October is the optimum period for mechanical harvesting of light-pruned tea, the November-December period has been found to be detrimental to both production as well as bush health. Dr. Baishya, during his presentation, suggested several, modifications to the existing machines, which their manufacturers could easily carry out to make them more suitable for field operations in northeast India. He went on to highlight the Young Tea Weeder, a manually operated tool, fabricated at Tocklai, which facilitates the economic and efficient control of weeds in young tea. Another tool that he highlighted was the Motorized Rotary Tiller Machine, which was tried on young tea for the control of weeds.

Mr. S. Varghese, Chief Advisory Officer, TRA West Bengal, during his presentation shed light on the increased area coverage that was achieved through mechanical harvesting under Dooars conditions. He also emphasized the need to train workers on proper handling of the harvesting machine, which is a key factor in achieving efficiency in mechanized harvesting.

Mr. Hattori of OCHIAI, Japan thereafter revealed that small tea holdings (< 1ha) make for about 60% of the area under tea cultivation. Moreover, a majority of field operations such as harvesting, leaf carrying, skiffing, soil tillage, fertilizer application etc. in these areas are carried out using machines that have been developed at OCHIAI’s R&D facilities. He also added that green tea manufactured from mechanically harvested teas have been found to be of higher quality than that of manually plucked ones. Mr. Hattori assured that all suggestions towards the improvement of such machines will receive due consideration in OCHIAI’s R&D facilities.

The Interactive Session of the workshop featured a vibrant interaction among the planters, machine manufactures and tea scientists.

The meeting ended with a vote of thanks offered by Dr. P. Baruah, Chief Advisory Officer, Assam