In India, the commercial cultivation of apples is done in the Himalayas at an elevation of 5000 to over 9000 feet above sea level. Himachal Pradesh is called the apple belt of India. Here the apple growers have mostly confined themselves to the varieties of ‘delicious’ groups. However new varieties are also being introduced and tried. At present there are 115 varieties of apples which are grown in Himachal, some of them are Red June, Red Delicious, Royal Delicious, Richard, Golden Delicious, Roam Beauty, Red Gala etc. Himachal being popular worldwide for its quality apple, is also facing many problems regarding insufficient cultivation due to different factors.
Impact of climate change
The winter temperatures and precipitation in the form of snow are important for bud break and also to ensure proper flowering in apples. Lesser number of chilling days in a calendar year results in poor fruit formation. The cold weather is delayed towards the later days of December and starting of January, so the chilling requirements for development of proper crop are not met.
Reports suggest that in the last three decades, apple crop is getting affected in all the hilly regions due to climate change. During this period, the Himalayan region has warmed faster than most places in the world. Temperature is going up by as much as 3 to 4 degree centigrade as compared to that of the 1980s. These changes have been noticed across different regions of the Himalayas. Consequences of these climate changes are visible clearly in the shifting of apple cultivation from lower elevations to higher altitudes, affecting growers in the lower belts of HP.
Poor soil conditions
The orchards located on slopes face soil erosion during heavy rainfall which results in loss of nutrition from the land. Likewise, southern and the southwest areas which are exposed to sun and have fewer irrigation facilities also face severe drought conditions during the summer.
Orchards more than 30 years of age are low in crop yield, as compared to the newer ones. The fruit size and quality is also not optimal in such orchards.
The most serious disease in Apple crops is Scab. Other diseases are premature leaf fall, root rot, replant problem, powdery mildew, cankers and viruses. Golden Delicious and Red Golden are highly susceptible to scab. The old plantations are more prone to diseases and the affected plants are killed within two to three years.
Not only are there environmental factors, apple growers are also facing a great competition from international sellers because of the import of apples in India. According to reports, the import of apples has doubled in the past few years, which is making the growers worried. The import duty is very less on these imported apples which makes them much cheaper than the Indian varieties.
On the other hand the increased price of packaging material, fertilizers and pesticides are also making the Indian Apple costlier.