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Tea Production

Help us keep the TEA in Australia

It’s been a tough year in Australian agriculture – a sunburnt country of flooding rains that suddenly halted an extended drought in Queensland and created a new set of disasters in the process as the barren earth disappeared under an inland sea.

The cyclone season is an additional challenge for farmers in our home state. Ex-Tropical Cyclone Owen broke records when it dumped more than 700mm of rain in 24 hours in some parts of Far North Queensland just a week before Christmas last year.

Dairy, beef and lamb producers have been the hardest hit and our hearts go out to them as part of the Australian farming family. And while they’ve rightly been at the forefront of the media coverage, there’s a story we want to share about what’s happened to us at Nerada Tea, the home of Queensland-grown tea.

While global tea corporations can source from multiple plantations, our fresh black tea comes from a single origin estate in Malanda on the Atherton Tablelands, an hour from Cairns.

And Mother Nature has not been kind to us recently, in some very unexpected ways. In the past 12 months, we’ve endured two frosts  alongside torrential rains that decimated the harvest. Even the growing season has been hit hard, cutting our yields of fresh black tea by nearly 50%.

Let us explain what a tough season it’s been:

The 2018/19 Harvest – the year we’d rather forget

Living in Far North Queensland we’re accustomed to a good soaking of rain, but when the temperature dropped below freezing point in June 2018, our 3 million tea bushes took a battering. It’s rare to see frosts at that time of the year, but when the tea flush is frosted, the delicate leaf tips and buds that are heart and soul of Nerada’s home-grown tea brown off and decay and cannot be harvested. In many instances, the next generation of tea buds sitting just below the top of the hedge are also damaged.

It was the worst frost we’ve seen in more than a decade and the impact has been devastating to our crop and business. It’s extremely unusual for frosts to cover more than half the estate.

Typically following a cold winter, early spring rainfall is needed to help the bushes to thrive. But the spring rains never came to Queensland in 2018 and our Malanda tea plantation was hit with a double whammy.

Then a super-hot summer meant the bushes began to suffer stress from lack of water – we don’t use irrigation – so the team was kept extra busy to maintain the health of the tea bushes without using pesticides.

As Christmas approached, our Plantation Director, Tony Poyner, recalls that “all our families prayed that the rain would come, but not quite the extent that we then received!”

When we checked the gauge it was overflowing – we needed to upgrade our rain gauge, since 300mm capacity just wasn’t big enough! (We should have known after one metre, yes 1000mm of rain, came down in March 2018, turning the red soil into mud).

So our prayers were answered, the rains did come, and it was a good soak. While this was preferable to the damaging floods down on the plains, it was a little too late for the 2018 season.

At a point where many businesses would look to cut costs as quickly as possible, we made an important decision to stand by the people who have stood us in good stead over the years – and in many cases, decades.

While production was halved, everyone was kept on the payroll. The team is all still here, and the machinery has never looked so sharp. As Tony explains: “it’s the people and the place that turn our tea into the special brew we all have to come to love.”

Times are tough in farming, but Australians are a resilient bunch and here at Nerada Tea we will make sure that we continue to produce Australia’s finest tea!

THE IMPACT ON NERADA TEA

Our bottom line has taken a hit with almost $1 million in losses.

But our longevity and ability to survive these agricultural nuances is something that we’re incredibly proud of. We’ve been making Australian-grown tea for long enough to endure the worst of the weather cycles. Working in agriculture makes you stoic enough to know some years will be tougher than others.

Our vastly experienced team knows we all just have to press on, so we persevere, with no job losses and a commitment to remaining a viable part of Far North Queensland’s local economy.

And with the hits some of our other farming friends have taken lately, this investment by Nerada is now more important than ever, not just for the people who work for us, but for our broader community, whether it’s the butcher, the auto repairs garage, the cafes or rural supplies store.

The dilemma we have at Nerada is that tea, unlike some other products such as fruit and vegetables, doesn’t have the luxury of dramatic pricing fluctuations when a lack of supply drives up prices. Our production costs might vary, but the price on the supermarket shelf is often outside our control – something milk producers know all too well.

And yet, we face the same pressures as our local banana producers and cattle farmers, who’ve copped the brunt of bad weather in recent years, whether drought, floods, cyclones, or all three, pushing production costs for their products.

Luckily for us, 360 hectares of tea plantation means we’ve got an extensive supply to keep fresh tea in your cups so that you can continue to enjoy your daily rituals over a cup of Nerada tea.

It’s fresh, pesticide free and we’re proud of the world class teas that we’re producing here on Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands. In other countries, tea is often purchased through an auction system, then sits on a dock for months before it’s sent for packaging and exported to end up on supermarket shelves.

Our Rainforest Alliance Certification is a mark of our quality, and our pesticide free status is a point of difference few tea producers in the world can emulate. It’s why you can taste the difference in your cup.

We’re not resting on our laurels though. We know that producing quality Australian tea won’t be sustainable in the long-term unless people stop and think about where their tea comes from.

Home-grown tea production in Australia definitely can’t be taken for granted and we need our army of loyal tea drinkers to help us spread the word and remind people that we do in fact have a thriving local tea industry.

So we’re calling on Australian tea consumers for your support.

We can’t do this alone and we need your help to continue to keep the “Tea” in Australia.

So we’ve come up with a number of ways you can help to spread the word.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Five ways to support local Australian grown teas

1: Seek out the Nerada packs on the supermarket shelf
The most obvious choice is to seek out our Nerada tea when you’re in the supermarket. We’re not always at eye level, and you may need to look a little harder for our green packaging with “Australian grown” in a red ribbon on top.

Unlike other categories, carrying the ‘Australian made’ logo on tea is not mandatory on packaging, even after Country of Origin labelling came into effect on 1 July, 2018. That means it’s often hard to see past the confusing phrases like Melbourne Breakfast or Australian teas, which contain no tea actually sourced from Australia. You can read more about that here.

2: Tell others to support Australian grown
We don’t have the multi-million dollar advertising budgets of our international competitors, but the little guys who are producing tea in Australia like Nerada and our neighbours at Daintree Tea, and Alpine Tea Company have a great stories to tell.

Remind your family and friends of the Nerada story and the freshness of the product. You should be able to taste the difference in your cup! We truly believe in the power of word of mouth and hope that our loyal Nerada fans will help to keep the brews made locally!

Spread the word and share this story on social media. If you know someone who might be interested in covering our story – please encourage them to get in touch, we’d love to talk to them about the the pride we all have in our Queensland estate.

Ask about the origin of your teas and where you can, support home grown.

3: Create some family memories around Nerada
There’s nothing better than pouring a cup of tea and connecting, especially when it involves friends or family. Gather your kids and create some tea rituals.

If you like to post on social media, make sure you include the hashtag #Australiangrown so everyone knows you’re supporting Australian producers.

4: Visit the home of Nerada on the Atherton Tablelands and discover our tea estate for yourself
We love seeing people on the Atherton Tablelands. Come and see our Malanda plantation and Tea Rooms for yourself, you may even get to spot our resident Lumholtz tree kangaroos who live on our estate.

5: If you can’t see Nerada stocked, ask the store manager to order it in
We know that you’ll often not be able to find our teas at eye level, so if you can’t find our teas, ask your local store manager to order it in. Alternatively, have a look at some our extended range online.

Let’s keep the TEA in Australia!

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