Poor yield makes Himachal apple business fruitful

September 9th, 2011 - 1:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Shimla, Sep 9 (IANS) The poor apple yield in Himachal Pradesh this season has been a blessing in disguise for cultivators who say the fruit’s prices have remained at a sweet high throughout northern India.

“Apple prices were at a significant high throughout the season due to its short supply. The prices remained almost constant throughout the season - almost 35 to 45 percent higher than last year,” Kanwar Dayal Krishan Singh, a prominent apple grower in Kotkhai in upper Shimla, told IANS.

He said even undersized and hail-hit apples fetched good prices. “The price of undersized apples is almost Rs.500 per box more than last year,” he added.

According to official estimates, this year’s apple production would be much below 17 million boxes - more than 60 percent less than last year’s bumper production of 44.5 million boxes.

Gian Singh Chandel, chairman of the Dhalli apple market committee near Shimla, said a 20 kg box of top quality Royal Delicious fetches between Rs.2,200 and Rs.2,300 in Delhi’s Azadpur market, against Rs.1,100 per box last year.

This season, he said, only a few farmers went to the Delhi and Chandigarh wholesale markets and they got good prices within the state.

“A number of traders from Gujarat and Maharashtra have purchased apples directly from the farmers at their orchards,” he said.

Officials of the horticulture department said the arrival of the crop from mid-hills of Shimla, Kullu and Mandi districts is almost over. Now, harvesting is on in the high-altitude areas of Kinnaur and Chamba districts.

Jagat Negi, horticulture development officer in Kinnaur, said harvesting has begun in some areas and will continue till October.

He said the apple crop in Kinnaur has been badly affected this year.

“Against the bumper production of over 29 lakh (2.9 million) boxes last year, this year it would be just around 18 lakh (1.8 mn) crates. But farmers are getting handsome prices that will definitely compensate their losses,” he added.

Kinnauri apples are known across the globe for their natural sweetness, colour and juiciness.

The horticulture department estimates that only 7.5 million crates of apples have been dispatched to various markets from the state, compared to 20 million boxes at this point of time last year.

Gurdev Singh, director of the horticulture department, blamed adverse weather for the reduced output.

“An extended winter when the apple crop was in the blooming stage - a period when flowers start to blossom - and a fury of hailstorms that followed when the crop was maturing have severely affected the production,” he said.

State-run Himachal Pradesh Horticultural Produce Marketing and Processing Corp (HPMC), which takes apples directly from the farmers for making juice concentrate, jams and squashes, procured 162 tonnes of apples till Aug 31 this year, against 9,318 tonnes last year.

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, fruits like cherries, pears, peaches, apricots, kiwi, strawberry, olive, almonds and plums are the major commercial crops of the state.

The economy of the hill state is highly dependent on horticulture as well as hydroelectric power and tourism with the annual fruit industry being worth about Rs.2,000 crore (Rs.20 billion).

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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