Tea: Multi-million-pound refresher for farming?

GROWING tea could provide a multi-million-pound boost for the rural economy and help secure the future of the agricultural industry, the Economic Development Minister has said following successful trials of the crop.

Eunice Pallot and Alicia Gentili survey the St Lawrence land. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON (29966656)
Eunice Pallot and Alicia Gentili survey the St Lawrence land. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON (29966656)

Tea is the world’s most popular drink, with the British consuming more than 60 billion cups a year.

Successful local harvests since the first crop was planted in 2016 have proved it can thrive in the Island’s climate.

Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham said: ‘The introduction of tea to Jersey follows the alternative-crop policy, which is contained in the Rural Economy Strategy. The more areas of high-value, low-input crops we can introduce will mean we can farm our land more productively and sustainably to increase the economic value of farming and secure the industry for future generations.’

There are currently two tea producers in the Island – Jersey Fine Tea and the Jersey Tea Company – each producing hand-crafted, loose-leaf premium products from tea grown at four sites, comprising 34 vergées.

Senator Farnham says there are plans to increase production to almost 100 vergées by 2022.

He said: ‘The [proposed] increase is a positive sign and an indication of confidence for the farming industry.

‘There is also potential growth sales value, as one hectare [9.8 vergées] is valued at £300,000. So increasing production has the potential to create a new multi-million pound-sector for the farming industry.’

Jersey Fine Tea is a sister business of The Jersey Royal Company, the Island’s biggest potato producer and exporter. It started producing whole-leaf black, green and white tea late last year.

Eunice Pallot, marketing and tea consultant, says Jersey’s climate is ideal for growing high-quality tea.

She said: ‘In our temperate climate a slower growth rate enables flavour to build in the leaves. Moreover, as the plants only produce leaves from April to September/October, the tea bushes are able to rest and reinvigorate over winter before the first flush of nutrient-packed new leaves in spring.

‘In cooler, quality tea-growing regions throughout the world, the first flush causes much excitement in tea circles, and the much sought-after teas command a premium price.’

Jersey Fine Tea has so far been exported to America, France, Spain, Holland and Belgium.

The Jersey Tea Company was founded in 2016 and produces hand-crafted organic green and black loose-leaf tea grown in the Island over ten vergées.

Five years ago the UK National Non-Food Crops Centre published a report commissioned by government to look at alternative crops best suited to Jersey’s small-scale farming system, which has been dominated by potato growing for over a century.

Agricultural diversification to secure the future viability of farming and protect the environment by using less agri-chemicals underpins the Rural Economy Strategy, Jersey’s blueprint document for the countryside.

The report found that Jersey, with its reputation dating back to Tudor times for producing premium produce, was well placed to capitalise on lucrative new markets in medicinal, cosmetic and niche crops.

Key criteria included the ability to process high-value, low-input crops to give farmers greater control of the supply chain – and potentially create jobs – and with low freight costs.

Since then hemp production has successfully been established, licences have been granted to grow medicinal cannabis and government-led trials in growing super berries are under way.

lFurther report on Jersey Fine Tea on page 22.

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