Soil Depletion in Tea Fields


One of the most overlooked aspects of agricultural sustainability, but nonetheless one of the most important, is that of soil depletion. Across the world, fields are being forced to produce more than they can naturally sustain over an extended period. Soil depletion, caused by the irresponsible overuse of farmland, threatens the future of the tea industry and of agriculture as a whole.

Simply put, soil depletion occurs when the vitamins and minerals, as well as natural fertilizers found in a soil are taken out faster than they can be replenished. Some types of agriculture, such as the growing of tobacco, cause soil depletion more rapidly. If care is not taken during the growing of crops, soil depletion can threaten the fertility of any land, regardless of the types of crops grown on it. When care is not taken to replenish the soil’s fertility during and after each growing season, the soil becomes less and less able to sustain healthy crops, thereby reducing yields year after year. For tea, the effects can be devastating for historic tea growers who have been using the same fields for hundreds of years. Luckily, the traditional family tea farmers are very knowledgeable about what makes a good tea harvest and can take the steps necessary to improve their soil year after year.

While the small family tea farm is able to work around soil depletion and prevent its occurrence, a frightening trend is starting to occur in the tea industry that should worry all of us. As bottled tea products and iced tea become more popular in developing markets, the demand for commodity tea has grown exponentially. Commodity tea is tea that is massed produced like a cash crop with little regard for quality and an emphasis on quantity. The tea tends to be finely ground and cheap – the stuff used in most teabags. For some tea growing families who have been growing tea on the same land for hundreds of years, the actions of big governments threaten their way of life and with it the sustainability of the fine tea industry. Massive tea conglomerates will work with the governments of developing nations to buy massive swathes of land used to grow their commodity tea, often displacing existing small tea growers. Without notice, family tea growers are forced off of the land they have nurtured for years and often left with little choice but to find work in cities. The companies that grow commodity teas take advantage of the weak environmental regulations of developing nations, and exploit the land without replenishing its natural fertility. The result of these destructive practices is mass soil depletion.

Because the soil depletion is occurring in traditional tea growing regions, this often overlooked aspect of environmental damage is causing tea production to drop, prices to rise, and putting many tea growers out of work. With the problem proliferating throughout the tea world, the well-being of the tea industry is not looking bright in the future.Fortunately, there are some changes occurring that will ease the pressure on the world’s natural resources and soils. One of these vital changes is the further development of complex and comprehensive environmental laws in third world nations. As governments become more aware of environmental issues and are being increasingly held to account, the protection of the environment is beginning to take center stage. Further, tea companies like us have vowed to work only with tea growers who practice sustainable farming and who help to take care of the planet.

Some tea growers, particularly in Japan, have been working to not only replenish soil fertility but also improve it. Every growing season, some Japanese farmers add organic material to their fields in the form of grass clippings and other biological scraps that break down slowly. Over time, valuable vitamins and nutrients are added to the soil, benefiting the quality of tea each and every season. 

With growing awareness of the damages of soil depletion in tea growing and other areas of agriculture, we can work to maintain the viability of the tea industry for posterity. All Herbal Republic teas are grown responsibly with the well-being of our planet in mind. With this promise, you can be sure that drinking Herbal Republic teas is a guilt-free experience. In doing so, you are supporting a growing movement for sustainable teas.