Apple season has begun in Himachal Pradesh, but the growers are not excited.
The weather Gods have not showered favour on them even this year and may bring down the apple production to around two crore boxes, roughly half the average annual production.
(One box contains 20-22 kilograms of apples).
Last year also, the apple production was less, around 2.30 crore boxes. The highest production of apples in Himachal so far has been around five crore boxes, in 2010.
The apple economy of Himachal runs between Rs 3000-3500 crore.
“Yes there is lesser production this year as well. The rains were good this time, but there was huge temperature variation that did not go well for apple plants,” said Principal Secretary, Horticulture, Jagdish Chader Sharma.
“The weather plays havoc with apple crop. But a persistent cause of lower productivity in general is the old rootstock of apple. Once it is changed, even the weather impact can be reduced,” Sharma told The Statesman.
The apple economy of Himachal annually runs into 4000 crore, with around 1.5 lakh families associated with it. Shimla district of Himachal produces 70 per cent of the total apple in the state, followed by Kullu and Kinnaur.
Apples from different parts of Himachal start flooding the market mid-July onwards. Kinnaur apple comes last, in October.
As per officials, apple is produced on 1.25 lakh hectares in the state with productivity as low as 3-4 tonnes per hectare.
The state generally contributes 40 per cent of total apple production in India, followed by Kashmir, which is at the top with 50 per cent production.
The commercial varieties of apple were first introduced in Himachal Pradesh by an American, Satyanand Stokes, who was settled in Kotgarh area of Shimla district in 1916. Prior to this, the hill state used to produce sour apples, smaller in size with no market value. The commercial cultivation of apples took off from Kotgarh and spread to other parts of the state.
However, the state is grappling with the problem of quantity even after hundred years of existence in Himachal.
Most of the apple orchards are worn out and the growers have not replaced the root stock for better returns, mainly for want of technical know-how in the midst of laid-back attitude of horticulture department and the state varsity dealing with horticulture. Only 3-4 per cent apple plants in the state have a new rootstock.
“We are taking up rootstock replacement in the course of Rs 1100 crore world bank funded horticulture project. This will check the impact of weather variation a great deal,” Sharma.
He said nowhere in the world the apple productivity is affected more than 5-10 per cent even due to weather variation.