Even as the apple growers in Himachal Pradesh always have their fingers crossed over the uncertainty that hangs over the fruit crop in the midst of general climate change, the weather gods have so far showered hope for them this season.
The extended chill, snowfall and rain, in line with old weather pattern, have helped the apple plants meet their chilling requirement before flowering.
Apple crop is right now in different stages of bloom and fruit setting at different heights. The produce hits the market mid-July onwards.
“So far so good. We hope to have a good apple crop this year. The only worry is hail, which damages the crop. If it doesn’t come, the apple crop will be good. More so, we hope the temperature does not drop further in apple orchards in heights, above 7,000 feet, or it will disturb flowering and setting of fruits,” said an apple grower from Kotgarh, Ravinder Makhaik.
Apples are grown across the hill state. However, upper parts of Shimla district, including Jubbal Kotkhai, produce 70 per cent of apple produce in Himachal.
The apple economy runs into Rs 4,000 crore in Himachal with around 1.5 lakh families associated with it, mainly in Shimla, Kullu and Kinnaur districts. Kinnaur apples are the last to come in September-October.
According to the official records, apple is produced on 1.25 lakh hectares in the state with productivity as low as 3-4 tonnes per hectare. The apple production in Himachal Pradesh is around 4 crore boxes (one box is 20 kilograms) if the crop is good. (Last year, the state produced less than 2 crore apple boxes).
Himachal generally contributes 40 per cent of total apple production in India, followed by Kashmir, which is at the top with 50 per cent production.
“Weather has been perfectly fine for apple crop this time since December, and we can expect quality apples. The snow and rain so far has helped the apple plants get their chilling and nutrient requirement met in all the apple belts. However, it needs to be dry now for proper flowering and fruit setting in higher reaches (above 7000 feet) where the apple plants are still in pink bud stage or king bloom,” Dr SP Bhardwaj, former Joint Director, Horticulture expert with Dr YS Parmar, University of Horticulture and Forestry, Solan, told The Statesman.
He said the flowering and fruit setting in lower (less than 6000 ft) and middle heights (6000-7000 ft) is good and almost complete.
Dr Bhardwaj said apple plants need 1000 to 1200 chilling hours (depending on variety) till they come in bloom.
This time, it snowed in higher hills of Himachal from mid-December to mid-January after a gap of two years, which was good for the apple crop in dormancy period. The chilling requirement of apple plants is met with temperature below 7 degree Celsius, but adequate snow gives multiple benefits. As per experts, chilling is stated to be the physiological requirement of apple plant before flowering. If met properly, the flowering is better and the fruit setting is effective.
Even as the state government is putting in efforts to replace the old and worn out apple orchards with climate resistant varieties, the results on ground are yet to be seen.