Shimla, Feb 24 (Calcutta Tube) Gurdev Singh, state director of horticulture, Himachal Pradesh said ‘Snow and rain this month (February), though after a long gap, would be beneficial for apple and other fruit crops.’ He said regular snow and rain in apple-growing belts have sufficiently increased the moisture content in the soil that helped the plant get nutrients in the pre-flowering season.
After last year’s lean season, apple growers in Himachal Pradesh are hoping for a good crop this year because of favourable weather.
The economy of the Himalayan state is highly dependent on horticulture – besides hydroelectric power and tourism – with the fruit industry worth about Rs.2,000 crore (Rs.20 billion/$430 million) per year.
The apple tree is at present dormant and will come out of it by next month. In April, it will enter the pink bud stage – a period when flowering begins.
S.P. Bhardwaj, a former joint director at the Solan-based Dr. Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, said the chilling period required for the crop was over. The apple crop requires 1,000 to 1,600 hours of chilling with the temperature at seven degrees Celsius or less during dormancy.
‘Now, the chilly hours have crossed 1,300. Recent rain and snow has caused the temperatures to plummet sharply, which helped to extend the chilling period,’ he said, adding that ‘the risk of early bud-breaking and flowering is now almost negligible’.
Kanwar Dayal Krishan Singh, an apple farmer from Kotkhai in upper Shimla, confirmed: ‘The recent snow has almost ended the dry spell. The snow accumulation would not only help in meeting the chilling requirement but also help sustain the moisture in the soil during the summer.’
The meteorological office in Shimla said the apple belts in Shimla, Kullu, Kinnaur and Mandi districts have received good rain and snow in the past few weeks.
‘In the next few days, there are chances of more precipitation across the state as western disturbances are again approaching. The higher elevations recorded 60 to 90 cm of snow this month,’ meteorological office director Manmohan Singh said.
Last year, which was a virtually snow-less winter and dry monsoon, there was a sharp decline in Himachal’s apple production. It came down to 14 million boxes of 22 kg each from 25.6 million boxes in 2008. The orchards in the lower elevations were the worst affected.
The maximum output – of 28.6 million crates – was recorded in 2006-07.
Himachal Pradesh is one of India’s major apple-producing regions, with more than 200,000 families engaged in the cultivation of the fruit.
Besides apples, other fruits like cherries, pears, peaches, apricots, kiwis, strawberries, olives, almonds and plums are the major commercial crops of the state.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)