Chandigarh: Intermittent rains in May and hailstorms in April have damaged a substantial portion of the apple crop in Himachal Pradesh and according to initial estimates by the state government, production could decline by about 14% this year compared with last year.
After a bumper harvest in November 2007, when the state produced 29.2 million boxes of apple, this year the production is expected to be lower by four million boxes. A standard box weighs 20 kg.
India produced 1.5 million tonnes (mt) of apple last year. Jammu and Kashmir contributed nearly 1mt and Himachal Pradesh most of the remaining. According to an estimate by horticulture experts, production in Kullu alone is expected to decline from seven million to 4.9 million boxes. C.R. Sharma, director of the state’s horticulture department, said: “The initial assessment of loss due to hailstorms alone has been in the range of Rs230 crore. The final estimate will be prepared only by June-end.”
In Himachal Pradesh, apple is grown in the middle hills ranging between 6,000ft and 10,000ft above sea level, with Shimla, Kullu, Kinnaur and Solan being the main apple producing areas. Apple growers, for their part, estimate a bigger slide. “The farmers have been hit twice: first by the hailstorm and then by the rains,” says Lekh Raj Chauhan, a grower from Rohru in Shimla, one of the worst affected districts. Chauhan, who is also president of the Himachal Pradesh Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, claims that in Rohru, which is located on the banks of the Pabbar river, the crop damage is 40-50% while that in the entire state is estimated at 30%.
Apple is a major crop in the state, accounting for almost half of 20 million ha under fruit cultivation. Depending on market conditions, it fetches about Rs1,800 crore a year for the state. The impact of hailstorms in Jammu and Kashmir couldn’t immediately be ascertained though reports say the impact has been minimal.
Some farmers are of the view that the lack of damage control mechanisms—such as proper supply of anti-hailstorm nets—are major causes for concern. Since fruit-growing is a delicate proposition and hilly regions are entirely dependent on the vagaries of nature, the crop production keeps fluctuating, they say.
While growers such as Chauhan blame the weather, a horticulture expert from YS Parmar university at Solan, S.P. Bhardwaj, remains optimistic. “Though the hailstorm has caused immense damage, the quality of the apple could improve,” he says. He estimates that the lowering of temperature in May “could lead to a more conical shape for the apple and that will fetch more returns in the market”.
“Rains imply that fruit growers would need to apply additional chemical sprays to protect their crops. But because of moisture, the fruit would be heavier,” says Bhardwaj.