By Vishal Gulati
Shimla, Aug 1 (IANS) Apple growers in Himachal Pradesh, one of India's major apple-producing regions, are upbeat that increased rainfall activity would result in sufficient moisture to help the fruit to gain optimum size. This would also raise overall apple production after a lean season.
The state Horticulture Department said harvesting of the fruit has just begun in low apples belts, mainly in Shimla district, that alone accounts for 80 per cent of the state's total apple production.
A total of 6,60,000 apple boxes have been sent to different markets of the country till July 30, said the Horticulture Department.
This year's production of apples in the hill state is estimated at 40 million boxes with an improvement over last year's 30 million boxes, Horticulture Director J.P. Sharma told IANS.
More than 90 per cent of Himachal Pradesh's apple produce goes to the domestic market. Apples constitute 49 per cent of the total area under fruit crops and 85 per cent of the state's fruit economy comes to Rs 4,000 crore.
The Economic Survey of 2020-21 stated that the area under apple production in the state had increased from 400 hectares in 1950-51 to 1,14,144 hectares in 2019-20. The production was normal with 70 million boxes in 2019-20.
Currently, the harvesting of apples is going on in areas like Jubbal, Kotkhai, Rohru, Kotgarh, Nerva and Karsog.
These early-season varieties normally fetch anywhere between Rs 2,200 and Rs 2,400 per 20-kg apple box.
Superior grades like Royal Delicious, Red Chief, Super Chief, Oregon Spur and Scarlet Spur will start arriving by the middle of August.
The major markets for apples are in Chandigarh, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi, with Narkanda town, some 65 km from the state capital, being a major hub for the fruit trade.
S.P. Bhardwaj, former joint director at Dr. Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry in Solan, told IANS that this season the crop is expected to be 25-30 per cent less than the normal production of 70 million boxes.
The main reason for the decline in the crop is lack of winter snow and then scanty rainfall till mid of July.
"The crop in June and July needs the moisture for the fruit and colour development. Water stress during the maturing season not only impacts the fruit quality and production but also results in fruit drop," he said.
"Now with the enhancement of rainfall activity, the crop will gain in size wherever harvesting is yet to start," he added.
According to Bhardwaj, the fruit is sold on the basis of weight. The gaining of optimum size means overall increase in quantity.
Trader Gian Thakur at the apple market in Dhalli near the state capital said a 20 kg box fetches Rs 2,400 in Delhi's Azadpur market with the onset of the apple season.
A large consignment is heading to the wholesale market in Delhi and Panchkula in Haryana where they are getting good prices.
"Like last year, this time too traders from Gujarat and Maharashtra, have not arrived owing to the pandemic. The farmers are taking their crop directly to Delhi and Panchkula markets," he added.
According to the local meteorological office, despite an early monsoon the hill state received 16 per cent less precipitation in June. It was as high as minus 80 per cent in February.
In July, the state saw 289.1 mm of rain against the normal of 273 mm, which was six more than the normal. Shimla district alone experienced 15 per cent more rains in this period. The rainfall activity in the state was enhanced with the onset of widespread heavy to very heavy rainfall after July 8, a Met official told IANS.
The rainfall activity in the state was enhanced with the onset of widespread heavy to very heavy rainfall after July 8, a Met official told IANS. In July, the state saw 373 mm of rain against the normal of 289.2 mm. The rainfall activity in the state was enhanced with widespread heavy to very heavy rainfall after July 8.
In the state about 81 per cent of the total cultivated area is rain-fed.
Farmers say April and May saw damage to the crop due to unseasonal snow and frequent hailstorms.
According to Horticulture Department estimates, lack of cold chains causes the decay of 25 per cent of the fruit produce.
Dr Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry's Department of Fruit Science last week addressed the queries of 100-odd farmers who have raised high-density plantations in 2016 under the World Bank-funded Himachal Pradesh Horticulture Development Project.
The high-density varieties, comprising Jeromine, Red Velox, Red Cap Valtod, Scarlet Spur-II, Super Chief, Gale Gala, Redlum Gala and Auvil Early Fuji, were grafted on M9 and MM106 rootstocks.
The government is promoting new low-chilling and early maturing varieties in the lower-altitude hills that are facing the brunt of climate change.
Farmers and trade insiders say the overall apple production in the state has been erratic since 2010.
Horticulture experts believe changes in precipitation patterns like frequent extreme weather events both in summer and winter have impacted the taste, colour and texture of apples.
Fluctuation in temperatures from December to February, for example, have preponed flowering in apple trees in spring and altered the timing of key plant physiological events like early bud break and full bloom period.
Changes in taste, colour and size due to weather fluctuations and lower overall productivity are noticeable in orchards located at 1,500 m, said Bhardwaj.
Himachal Pradesh's apple boom is credited to Samuel Evans Stokes (later named Satyanand Stokes), an American missionary who first introduced the high-quality apples in the mid-altitude hills in the second decade of the previous century. From a small orchard in Kotgarh in Shimla district, Stokes promoted apple cultivation in other areas too, especially in upper Shimla.
Before opting for apple cultivation, the locals were planting mainly wheat, maize and pulses.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at )