Low snowfall in Himachal Pradesh

February 6th, 2009 - 12:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Shimla, Feb 6 (IANS) Rising temperatures and very little or no snowfall since the onset of winter in Himachal Pradesh could hit the hill state’s Rs.20-billion (Rs.2,000-crore) fruit industry this year.”The prolonged dry spell in the mid-hills is a matter of concern. It will definitely hit the apple, peach, plum, apricot and almond yields,” said P.S. Chauhan, a horticulture expert at the Solan-based Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry.

According to him, the negligible or the total lack of snowfall and rains in most fruit-growing areas in December, January and so far this month would reduce the moisture content in the soil.

“This will ultimately hit the proper flowering of the plant,” Chauhan told IANS.

The flowering season for apple crop is April-May, and middle of February for peach, plum, apricot and almond.

Fruit-growing areas of Shimla, Kullu and Mandi districts have been experiencing a long dry weather spell since the season’s first snowfall in the first week of January.

According to the meteorological office in Shimla, the Kothgarh-Thanedar belt in Shimla district, Karsog belt in Mandi district and the Kullu valley have had either negligible or no snowfall.

The Kothgarh-Thanedar belt is known for producing delicious apples of Royal Delicious, Red Delicious and Rich-a-Red varieties.

The apple crop requires 1,000 to 1,600 hours of chilling with the temperature at seven degrees Celsius or less before flowering during the dormancy period.

“We have already received 1,100 chilly hours for apple crop, but the continuous dry spell reduces the moisture content in the soil, which is not favourable for the plant during the crop season,” state horticulture director Gurdev Singh said.

According to former horticulture joint director M.R. Kondal, there has been a “noticeable change” in the snowfall pattern in the state in the past 10-12 years.

“Earlier, there was an accumulation of three to four feet of snow in most of the mid-hills during this period. Now, erratic snow and rising temperatures have taken a toll on even the snowline,” he said.

Confirmed Jai Thakur, an apple farmer from Shimla district: “This season, our fields are totally devoid of ice cover.”

But horticulture expert Chauhan said there was always a chance that harvest could yet turn out to be good. “If the weather obliges us with a good spell of snow in the coming days, then there are still chances of a good apple crop,” he said.

The total fruit yield in Himachal Pradesh - often referred to as the country’s fruit bowl - was 712 tonnes during 2007-2008, out of which apple accounted for 592 tonnes.

The total area under horticulture cultivation is around 200,000 hectares, 40 percent of this being taken up by apple orchards.

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

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