This August has been an odd one… Scorching hot sun high in the sky day after day. Desert wind intermittently whining and whistling behind the window, literally sucking the water out from everything alive. 15 days in a row with a temperature of 35 °C or more is a bit numbing experience for people (at least when you come from north), but even more so for plants. A few days ago I was walking in the forest, seeing rhododendrons that were literally crispy dry, leaves just pulverising when you squeeze them. During those years we have been in Georgia, we have never experienced anything like this in our region. Yes, it can be hot for a few days or for a week. But this heat combined with desert dryness and storm-like winds has not happened before.
Dried out tea bushes
Probably there will be no long-term effect on the tea bushes, I suppose they have seen worse over their 60-80 years of life… but a short-term impact there will be for sure. We will find out soon enough. Just as an example - when usually we need about 4,5 kg of fresh tea leaves to make 1 kg of tea, then in the second half of August it dropped to 3,5-3,7 kg. Also, we can see that the teas we have made are slightly different. Not necessarily in a bad way, but different - more round and smooth, sweeter. If you get a tea that is produced in the second half of August and it tastes a bit differently than you are used to, then you know why.
There is also one positive effect from all this heat and dryness. It has also stopped the growth of weeds. After cleaning the ground under this scorching sun, almost nothing new starts to grow. Our plantations have never been so clean and we actually sent our cleaning teams on a collective vacation for the last 10 days of August instead of torturing them on the fields with those temperatures. It's a bit funny, how things change. Two years ago we could not harvest some of the plots at the end of August because we just did not manage to keep them clean and now we can send guys on holiday because there is nothing for them to clean.
The rain finally came on the 3rd of September, the first time since the 11th of August. 22 days without a drop of rain…
Weather in August.
August has been a challenging month on other fronts as well, not only because of the weather. Our team has also been going through some hard times. After 7 consecutive months in Georgia, Hanna and Mario went to Estonia at the end of July, feeling mentally exhausted and burnt out. The challenges of building up a new tea farm are taking a toll on all of us and they needed to take some time off both physically and mentally.
Also the financial challenges continue as expected. Every year we produce more, which means that our costs are also increasing during the season. Unfortunately we still lack a sufficient financial buffer and the end of the season is always difficult. On top of that, Georgian local currency Lari has strengthened more than 20% in the last year since tourism has been recovering after COVID and there has been also a lot of money flowing to Georgia from Russia after the start of the war. As our costs are mostly in Lari, but revenue in Euros, such big swings give us hard times. Our costs in EUR have been almost 30'000 EUR bigger this summer only because of the exchange rate and for our small company it is significant.
Somehow we are still alive and probably have to be thankful for that, but we still cannot reach the tipping point where we have enough product to sell over the year to achieve stability as a company. Why? Well, obviously, if we are lacking harvest, then the problem is the plantations. But there isn’t one big bottleneck to fix, it is more like a myriad of different reasons in combination, which makes it actually harder to solve. Of course, we have made several mistakes ourselves in plantation management over the years and as our company is on a constant financial diet, it has sometimes prevented us from doing things that would have probably been useful. But we can't ignore also the condition of the fields after 30 years of abandonment as it varies from quite ok to half empty…
In the last couple of months, we have come to believe more firmly, that even as we learn and improve in the agricultural area, the improvements will be gradual and most likely the growth in harvest volumes is still not going to be as fast as we would need to break out from this circle and to take the next step as a company. We have the factory that is working with normal load only in May. We also have the customers and demand, because still every year we have more requests for tea than we are able to harvest from our fields. This all has led us to the idea to try to add another plantation and increase the harvestable area as the fastest potential solution to our bottleneck. So, this will be one of the extra tasks for the coming weeks - get back to discovering abandoned tea plantations and see if we find anything interesting that looks like a worthy candidate to join our farm.
Hopefully September brings stability in weather and business both :)
The rain is finally here, so the bushes and "our" farm animals (the neighbours pigs and cows running around freely) do look happier already.
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