Steeple Bumpstead
Agricultural Discussion Society

Established 1929

Newsletter January 1998

On 1st December Chris Tyler talked to us about tea production. No we are not diversifying into tea because of the poor prices we are currently getting for our wheat but it is always interesting to hear about different crops even though we will not be growing them ourselves.

Until his retirement Chris worked for Unilever who produce a vast quantity of tea world-wide. On their plantations they employ 80,000 people which meant that with their dependants the were responsible for about 1/4 million people in many different countries such as Ceylon, Java, Malawi and others. He told us about the basic agronomy of growing tea, and how it was all hand picked. A quick tea plucker can pick 50 kg of leaves a day. This does not sound much but 1 kg consists of about 1000 shoots and each is individually picked - that makes 50,000 of hand and wrist movements - it is a good job they havenít heard about R.S.I. Although tea is totally different to the crops that we grow there are many similarities. The one that struck me was the advances over the last 40 years that have increased yield form 600 kg of dry tea per Hectare to 4 tonnes per hectare today. This in turn has changed something which was very valuable into a cheap commodity.

This links in with the second part of the talk which was about the history of tea. We were told very interesting stories which started 5000 years ago and involved tea smuggling, the growing of opium to trade for tea in China, the opium wars with China, and the use of fine Chinese porcelain as ballast in the ships. When tea first arrived in this country it was traded at £10 per pound which was equivalent to a good annual wage for a man at the time. In 1997 tea traded at £1 per Kg (45 pence per pound) and I will leave you to compare that with what is good annual wage for a man today.

Chris was very knowledgeable about his subject and gave a very good talk.

In January Colin Myram came to tell us about the research work he is doing at Crop Care. Crop Care are a commercial company who sell agrochemicals but they were suspicious that the manufacturers were not telling the whole truth about the capabilities of their products. This works two ways; a product may be hyped up by the manufacturer to cover up poor performance or a manufacturer may wish to keep quiet about the fact that his product is so good that it will work almost as well if applied at half rate which would mean them selling less product.

Crop care have been running trials for many years but 2 years ago they bought a farm at Saxham and set it up as an experimental farm. They have been very successful because now the manufacturers pay them to do research for them.

The talk was quite technical so I wonít bore you with the details but we learnt some interesting wrinkles. This independent work is important as it helps us improve our efficiency and reduce our costs, because the manufacturers are always keen that we should spend as much as possible.

Stephen Graves (Secretary)

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