Heavy snowfall earlier this week may have brought the same old problems for people in Himachal Pradesh in terms of transport and disrupted water and power supply, but the apple growers in the state have a reason to smile.
It snowed heavily in the apple belt apple producing areas of HP first in December and now before mid-January, bringing hopes of a good apple crop in the season this year. Shimla district of Himachal produces 70 per cent of total apple crop in the state, followed by Kullu and Kinnaur districts. The early variety of apple hits the market by mid of July month. The Kinnaur apple comes in the last in October.
“Heavy snowfall in peak winter is welcome for apple crop as it helps in good flowering. The snowfall earlier this week is very high compared to yester years and this will help in retaining moisture in soil for chilling,” an apple grower from Kotgarh, Ravinder Makhaik told The Statesman.
He said for past many years, there was a shift in winters and the snowfall occurred in late January or February, which was not suitable for apple crop.
Experts say the apple trees require 800-1000 chilling hours in winters as they prepare to bear flowers in April month. The apple trees require temperature below 7 degree Celsius for their chilling requirement to be met, but heavy snowfall gives multiple benefits.
A good snowfall not only meets chilling requirement, it makes water available to the plant.
Former Joint Director with Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, Solan and a horticulture expert, Dr SP Bhardwaj said the snowfall received in January having shortest day length of about 10 hours helps snow to melt after a longer duration. “This provides more time to complete chilling hours and moisture is retained in the soil for much longer time.”
He explained that availability of abundant moisture for longer duration assists microorganisms in breaking down of organic matter and fertilizers like phosphorus in the soil profile.
“Snowfall assures dormancy break at the right stage and consistent flowering of all varieties. At the same time, it assures better chances of fruit set,” he said.
The apple economy in the hill state runs into Rs 4000 crore. Around 1.5 lakh families are associated with apple production, mainly in Shimla, Kullu, Kinnaur, parts of Mandi and Chamba.
As per officials, apple is produced on 1.25 lakh hectares in HP with productivity as low as 3-4 tonnes per hectare. The apple production in Himachal Pradesh is around 4 crores boxes (one box is 20 kilograms) if the crop is good.
However, over the years, the weather has been playing spoilsport for apple growers.
“This time, we have good snowfall. We hope the weather does not spoil the chances of a good crop at flowering or fruit setting stage this time,” said an apple grower from Kotkhai, Prakash Chauhan.
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 state produces the Red Chief, Royal Apple and Golden varieties mainly and HP apples, especially those from Kinnaur, are appreciated for their colour and taste.