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Photos: In Taiwan Tea Country, a Scramble to Adapt to Extreme Weather

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Tea harvesting staff collect tea leaves on a plantation in Jiayi, Taiwan, May 7, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

Meishan/Taoyuan, Taiwan: Chien Shun-yih looks out over his withering tea fields in Taiwan’s picturesque southern Meishan township and lets out a sigh.

A once-in-a-century drought last year followed by torrential rain this year have decimated his crop and left Taiwan’s tea farmers scrambling to adapt to the extreme weather changes.

“Climate is the thing we can least control in managing our tea plantation,” the 28-year-old Chien told Reuters. “We really do rely on the sky to eat.”

Taiwan’s tea output does not come close to matching China’s or India’s, but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality, especially the high mountain premium Oolong variety that Meishan specialises in.

Tea has been grown in the mountains around Meishan since the island was part of China’s Qing dynasty in the 19th century. The industry matured and expanded under Japanese imperial rule from 1895-1945.

Chien, who returned to run the family plantation after his father died of cancer four years ago, is now working on coping strategies for extreme weather, including hacking deep into the undergrowth to look for pools to pipe water to the fields.

Lin Shiou-ruei, a government researcher helping Meishan’s farmers, said another problem the extreme weather brings is pests that attack the young tea buds.

“Pests love the dry and the heat,” she said at her experimental fields in Taoyuan in northern Taiwan. “Previously it wouldn’t be hot until around May to July, but now in April it’s already really hot.”

Lin is working to educate farmers about the pests that proliferate with climate change, and how to identify and manage them.

Her boss, senior agronomist Tsai Hsien-tsung, said they began monitoring weather changes in the tea country four years ago and have already seen the crop’s flavour alter with the seasons.

“Temperatures are going up, rainfall is going down. There is less moisture in the air,” he said. “Tea is very sensitive.”

However, whether or not what is happening in Taiwan’s tea country is directly related to climate change remains an area for debate.

Chen Yung-ming, head of the Climate Change Division at Taiwan’s National Science and Technology Centre for Disaster Reduction, said it was not possible to blame the drought on climate change.

“We can only say that the chance of continuous drought will increase,” he said.

Chien estimates he will only harvest 600 kg (1,300 lb) of tea this year, half of last year’s crop, due to the drought and rain, but says he is determined not to be beaten.

“These trees are what fed me and brought me up. In return I want to try my best to take good care of them too.”

Photos follow, with captions below

Lin Shiou-ruei, an associate researcher at the Tea Research and Extension Station, examines pests found inside a tea leaf, in Taoyuan, Taiwan, May 12, 2021. “Pests love the dry and the heat,” said Lin “Previously it wouldn’t be hot until around May to July, but now in April it’s already really hot.” Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

Tsai Hsien-tsung, manager of the Tea Research and Extension Station, checks sticky paper for bugs, in Taoyuan, Taiwan, May 12, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

Chien Shun-yih, 28, rests after reaching the water tower he built in the middle of the forest in Jiayi, Taiwan, September 7, 2021. Chien, who returned to run the family tea plantation after his father died three years ago, is now working on coping strategies for extreme weather, including having to hack deep into the undergrowth looking for pools to pipe water to their fields. “Climate is the thing we can least control in managing our tea plantation,” he said “We really do rely on the sky to eat.” Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

Chien Shun-yih, 28, smells tea leaves to determine whether they’re ready in Jiayi, Taiwan, September 6, 2021. Chien estimates he will only harvest 600 kg of tea this year, half of last year, due to the drought and rains, but says he is determined not to be beaten. “These trees are what fed me and brought me up. In return I want to try my best to take good care of them too.” Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

Lin Shiou-ruei, an associate researcher at the Tea Research and Extension Station, holds up a container of microorganism pure culture for research on pest growth on tea plantations in Taoyuan, Taiwan, May 12, 2021. “Pests love the dry and the heat,” said Lin “Previously it wouldn’t be hot until around May to July, but now in April it’s already really hot.” Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

Cao Hui-lan, 50, the mother of Chien Shun-yih, climbs between their tea fields to blow away water on the leaves before the harvest, in Jiayi, Taiwan, September 5, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

Chien Shun-yih, 28, checks a broken pipe connecting to a water tank, in Jiayi, Taiwan, September 7, 2021. Chien, who returned to run the family tea plantation after his father died three years ago, is now working on coping strategies for extreme weather, including having to hack deep into the undergrowth looking for pools to pipe water to their fields. “Climate is the thing we can least control in managing our tea plantation,” he said “We really do rely on the sky to eat.” Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

Chien Shun-yih, 28, tastes tea while processing a fresh harvest at a workshop in Jiayi, Taiwan, September 6, 2021. Chien estimates he will only harvest 600 kg of tea this year, half of last year, due to the drought and rains, but says he is determined not to be beaten. “These trees are what fed me and brought me up. In return I want to try my best to take good care of them too.” Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

Students learn how to hand-roll tea at a training workshop at the Tea Research and Extension Station in Nantou, Taiwan, May 5, 2021. A once in a century drought last year followed by torrential rain this year have decimated tea crops, and extreme weather exacerbated by climate change has left Taiwan’s tea farmers scrambling to adapt. Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

A sudden storm changes the colour of the sky above the tea plantation and tea processing workshop, in Jiayi, Taiwan, September 5, 2021. A once in a century drought last year followed by torrential rain this year have decimated tea crops, and extreme weather exacerbated by climate change has left Taiwan’s tea farmers scrambling to adapt. Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

Tea harvesting staff collect tea leaves on a plantation, in Jiayi, Taiwan, May 7, 2021. Staff are paid based on the weight of the tea they collect, however, the drought has caused a decrease in growth which affects the amount of money they can earn per harvest. Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

A member of staff checks tea leaves after they have been spun in water, in Jiayi, Taiwan, May 6, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

A tea harvester wraps blades around her fingers before starting a day of work in Jiayi, Taiwan, May 7, 2021. Staff are paid based on the weight of the tea they collect, however, the drought has caused a decrease in growth which affects the amount of money they can earn per harvest. Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

Chien Shun-yih, 28, checks the flavour of freshly roasted tea before packaging it, at his home office in Jiayi, Taiwan, September 8, 2021. Chien, who returned to run the family tea plantation after his father died three years ago, is now working on coping strategies for extreme weather “Climate is the thing we can least control in managing our tea plantation,” he said “We really do rely on the sky to eat.” Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

Chien Shun-yih, 28, has a barbeque with friends and family in a storage room to celebrate the end of another harvesting season in Jiayi, Taiwan, September 8, 2021. Chien estimates he will only harvest 600 kg of tea this year, half of last year, due to the drought and rains, but says he is determined not to be beaten. “These trees are what fed me and brought me up. In return I want to try my best to take good care of them too.” Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

A sudden storm changes the colour of the sky above the tea plantation, in Jiayi, Taiwan, September 5, 2021. A once in a century drought last year followed by torrential rain this year have decimated tea crops, and extreme weather exacerbated by climate change has left Taiwan’s tea farmers scrambling to adapt. Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

Tea leaves dry on a plastic sheet in the sun in Jiayi, Taiwan, May 6, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

Tea plantations stand in Mei Shan township, one of the main tea production sites, during sunset in Jiayi, Taiwan, September 7, 2021. A once in a century drought last year followed by torrential rain this year have decimated tea crops, and extreme weather exacerbated by climate change has left Taiwan’s tea farmers scrambling to adapt. Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

Chien Shun-yih, 28, jokes around while tasting freshly roasted tea, at his home office in Jiayi, Taiwan, May 7, 2021. Chien, who returned to run the family tea plantation after his father died three years ago, is now working on coping strategies for extreme weather “Climate is the thing we can least control in managing our tea plantation,” he said “We really do rely on the sky to eat.” Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

Chien Shun-yih and his team smell the tea while it’s rolling in a basket, to determine whether it’s ready, in Jiayi, Taiwan, September 5, 2021. Chien estimates he will only harvest 600 kg of tea this year, half of last year, due to the drought and rains, but says he is determined not to be beaten. “These trees are what fed me and brought me up. In return I want to try my best to take good care of them too.” Photo: Reuters/Ann Wang

(Reuters – reporting by Ann Wang; writing by Ben Blanchard; editing by Karishma Singh)

The post Photos: In Taiwan Tea Country, a Scramble to Adapt to Extreme Weather appeared first on The Wire Science.

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