Tuesday, Oct 03, 2023

Himachal Apples Heading For A 'Bumper Season' But Fears Still Remain

Himachal Apples Heading For A 'Bumper Season' But Fears Still Remain

Snowfall has broken a 30-year-old record in Himachal Pradesh. And, if the horticulture scientists are to be believed, the state is heading for a ‘bumper season'.

Apple orchard under the snow.
Apple orchard under the snow. Neha Rukta

Good winter snowfall has always charmed the fascinating hills. Additionally, it helps in revitalising the pandemic-hit and crisis-ridden apple economy. Hence, the fruit growing farmers in the hills of Himachal Pradesh have a reason to smile their way.

Snowfall has broken a 30-year-old record in Himachal Pradesh. And, if the horticulture scientists are to be believed, the state is heading for a ‘bumper season'.

“The data maintained by Dr Y S Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry (UoHF), Nauni (Solan) indicate absolutely positive features. The chilling hours of the apple orchards are fully met. The soil moisture is in abundance. If we look at the rain data of previous months it is 260 mm against last year’s 57 mm” says Prof S K Bhardwaj, Head of the Department of Environmental Sciences at UHF, Nauni.

Prof Bhardwaj has a graphical presentation of the past three decades as to how weather consistently played an adverse impact on the apple crop barring a few seasons that saw a timely snowfall, rains and favourable temperature. 

Apple orchard under the snow.Apple orchard under the snow. (Credit: Neha Rukta)

Last week’s snow, which broke all earlier records, was third during the year. He claimed that the snowfall was very timely but also good for the overall health of the orchards, currently passing through a dormant period, after an earlier crop season.

Till now, the apple farmers have faced the worst crisis, at least during the past few years due to inclement weather, dry spells, failed snowfalls and adverse climatic conditions. Last year, untimely and heavy snowfall in March-April 2021, wiped out 35 to 40 per cent of the apple crop, also smashing down the plants.

Even Kashmir, which produces 71 to 74 per cent of the apples in India, had witnessed extensive damage to the apple orchards in several parts of the valley, especially in Shopian and Kulgam districts in south Kashmir, where most of the horticulture produce was not harvested.

Thus, it’s all about a timely and friendly snowfall that has always been rated as the best pre-requisite for the apples.

"Snowfall is a boon for the farmers. It acts as a natural conditioner. The plants ideally require 1400 to 1600 chilling hours. These will be sufficiently met. As I look at my own apple orchard, we have at least four feet of snow. I am sure the conditions are almost alike elsewhere also, after the latest snowfall”, says Dr Vijay Singh Thakur, former Vice-Chancellor of UHF, Nauni , who owns orchards at Jubbal in Shimla district.

He also claims that snowfall also helps in maintaining the temperature below six to seven degrees Celsius for around one month. Thereafter, the orchards will get a good bloom.

Prakash Thakur, an orchardist at Thanedar, who also remained Director, Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA)—a subsidiary under the ministry of economic affairs says “Snowfall is just one factor contributing to the fruit economy."

“Fortunately, this time, we can expect a bumper crop as last year it was a low-crop season due to various factors including failed snow, dry spell (now rains) climatic changes. Yet, the worst thing happening is the import of the Iranian apples flooding the Indian markets . We will not be able to survive or compete against the quality of the fruit Iran is sending to Indian markets” he points out.

Recently Kashmir apple growers have also voiced their concerns over the Iranian apples.

Only a few days back, a joint forum of apple dealers of three states –Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand had written a letter to  Union minister for agriculture and farmers welfare Narendra Singh Tomar demanding an immediate ban on imposed on the import of apples from Iran and raising the import duty to 100 per cent to discourage the arrival of Iranian apples to India.

Dr Vijay Singh Thakur, however, has a different opinion on the issue and maintains that Iranian apples are not a threat to the Indian apples, whether produced in Kashmir or Himachal.

“India is not producing enough apples to attain sufficiency in domestic markets. The foreign apples boost sales of Himachal or Kashmir apples as a lot of Indian consumers generally don’t always prefer foreign apples. Secondly, we are also dependent on Iran for oil and other products produced there. I don’t think any government will be able to ban such imports” he says.

India annually produces 23-25 lakh tonnes of apples, with Jammu and Kashmir (18-19 lt) and Himachal Pradesh (5-6 lt) accounting for the bulk of it.

In 2018-19, India also imported 2.83 lakh tonnes of apples mainly from the US (1.28 lt), Chile (0.54 lt), New Zealand (0.26 lt), Italy (0.22 lt) and Turkey (0.16 lt.

Himachal produces between 2 to 3 crore boxes annually and has an economy of Rs 5000 cr.

Lately, the growers, especially the younger generation, have started trying to beat the market by growing premium varieties of apples or going in for high-density plantations. A few like Deepak Singha, a younger innovator at Kotgarh, are motivating the growers to switch over to other fruits like plums, peaches, kiwi and cherry plantations.

In Shimla town, snowfall brought cheers to the sagging tourism industry which had been passing through a bad phase of the pandemic in the past two years. Some parts of the town witnessed almost two to three feet of snow. The district administration had to close down all offices and institutions because of heavy snowfall disrupting roads that could not be cleared for vehicular or pedestrian mobility for three to four days.


Must Read