Time to savour pulpy strawberries of Himachal Pradesh (With Image)

February 10th, 2009 - 12:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Shimla, Feb 10 (IANS) You can have more strawberries this year, with or without cream. More Himachal Pradesh farmers are cultivating this fruit as it’s fetching a good price.

Early varieties of the pulpy red delicacy are already in the market. The fruit is reaching various cities of northern India including Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Delhi and Dehradun.

“Though the strawberry season is yet to pick up, some of the early varieties like ‘Sweet Charlie’ and ‘Early Chandler’ from Paonta Sahib and nearby areas in Sirmaur district have hit markets and are fetching good prices,” state horticulture department director Gurdev Singh told IANS.

“Successful commercial cultivation of strawberry in temperate areas of the state, especially in Sirmaur district, has encouraged us (the horticulture department) to promote the cultivation of this crop,” he said.

As per horticulture department estimates, at least 100 farmers in Sirmaur are growing strawberries and nothing else, on 60 hectares overall. The harvesting of strawberries, which began in January, will go on till April.

“The strawberry crop in mid-hills of Sirmaur, Kangra and Solan districts is quite good. The heart of this activity is along a 15-km stretch from Paonta Sahib to Dhaula Kuan in Sirmaur district,” district horticulture officer M.M. Sharma said.

He said the demand for strawberries grown in the Sirmaur areas was quite high in fruit processing units due to their natural tangy taste, colour and juiciness.

“Strawberries grown in this area (Sirmaur district) are always in high demand and enjoy a virtual monopoly in fruit processing units,” he said.

Anil Joshi, a farmer from Majra village near Paonta Sahib, said the price of the strawberries at the Chandigarh wholesale fruit market was now Rs.50-Rs.60 per tray of 250 grams.

He said most of the high-quality fruit in this area was procured by the processing units of Delhi.

“The major problem with strawberry is that it has a shelf life of 48 to 72 hours and has to be marketed fast. We prefer to sell the crop directly to the processing units or by selling it in the nearby markets,” said Sunil Singh, another farmer.

According to the horticulture department, the strawberry production gives faster returns than other fruit crops.

“Since strawberry is a temperate fruit crop, it can be grown in sub-tropical regions. It’s more profitable in the shortest possible time compared to other fruits. By adopting proper practices, eight to 10 tonnes of fruit can be had from an acre,” Gurdev Singh said.

“Extreme climatic conditions can be countered by using modern greenhouses called polyhouses. Micro-sprinklers help in maintaining proper climatic conditions even during extreme summer,” he said.

Himachal Pradesh is now promoting polyhouse farming, especially for off-season cultivation.

The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development has sanctioned a loan of Rs.1.55 billion (Rs.155 crore) to the hill state under which 30,000 polyhouses would be set up in the next four years.

The economy of the hill state is highly dependent on horticulture, apart from hydroelectric power and tourism. But most of its farmers have small landholdings on hill slopes.

Besides strawberries, other fruits such as apple, pear, peach, kiwi, cherry and plum are the major commercial crops of the state.

The total fruit production in the state during 2007-2008 was 712 million tonnes, out of which apple production was 592 million.

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

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