Shimla, April 4:
Apple cultivation is losing its flavour in Himachal Pradesh. Over the years, its production has been erratic, say experts. The culprit: a prolonged winter spell and lack of adequate rainfall when the apple crop was ripening between May and June.
The situation is hardly bright for cultivators this time, with the clouds of uncertainty hovering over the horizon. Farmers are praying for sunny days.
Horticulture Minister Vidya Stokes, a prominent apple grower in the country, admits that frequent change in climatic conditions has added to growers’ worries.
Stokes told IANS there was a good chance that fruit size will be smaller this time, if the rains continue.She said that the absence of sprays of micronutrients, pesticides and fungicide on the apple tress owing to continuous rains has left the crop vulnerable to damage.
According to her, the impact of weather at present is more in orchards located at a lower altitude where the crop is in the stage of blooming — a period when flowers start to blossom — than at higher elevations.
The hill state is one of India’s major apple producing regions, with more than 90 percent of the produce going to the domestic market.
The fruit economy of the state involves around Rs.3,500 crore per year, and apple alone constitutes 89 percent of it. Most of it is in Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Lahaul and Spiti, Kinnaur and Chamba districts.
Apple grower Naresh Sharma at Dhano village in the Theog area in upper Shimla said that like last year, this time too the extended winter due to frequent spells of rains in April could impact overall production.
He said orchards located in the lower altitudes (less than 6,000 feet) of Shimla, Kullu and Mandi districts are worst affected due to ongoing rains.
“Lack of spray of micronutrients at this stage due to rains could result in weak fruit development and more fruit dropping (in June),” Sharma said.
S.P. Bhardwaj, a former joint director at the Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, said the chilly conditions could hamper the movement of bees and butterflies that play an important role in fruit pollination.
He said ageing orchards, rising costs of inputs and frequent change in temperatures are taking a toll on overall fruit productivity.
The meteorological office in Shimla said the rainfall was 81 percent higher in March in the state than the normal 104.8 mm. It was the highest during this period since 2007.
Shimla district, which alone accounts for 80 percent of the total apple production, experienced 81 percent excess rain in March.
The production of fruits in 2014-15 is estimated at 653,000 tonnes, compared to 866,000 tonnes in 2013-14. However, in 2013-14 it had increased by 55.8 percent from its previous fiscal, says the state’s economic survey of 2014-15.
“Apple constitutes about 89 percent of the total fruit production. During 2014-15 (up to December 2014), 581,000 tonnes of apples were produced against 739,000 tonnes in 2013-14,” the report said.
It was 412,000 tonnes of apples in 2012-13 against 275,000 tonnes in 2011-12. In 2010-11, it was a record production of 892,000 tonnes.
The report said the area under apple crop has increased to 107,686 hectares from 3,025 hectares in 1960-61.
In his budget speech on March 18, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh announced that in 2015-16 additional 1,000 hectares will be brought under the revamped ‘Apple Rejuvenation Project’.
To protect fruit crops especially apple from hailstorms, the government has already enhanced subsidy under greenhouses to 85 percent and on anti-hail nets to 80 percent, he said.
Himachal Pradesh’s economy is highly dependent on hydroelectric power, horticulture and tourism. IANS