Srinagar- The horticulture department expects a bumper apple crop of 21-22 lakh tonnes in the Kashmir valley this year on the back of introduction of new varieties and higher acreage.
However, apple dealers and growers are not on the same page with the department as they expect the production to be less the last year due to damage to the crops because of adverse weather conditions and diseases.
They have also called for the setting up of controlled atmosphere (CA) stores in the valley so that growers can earn better prices, especially during the off-season.
According to the horticulture department, apple production was 20 lakh tonnes in the last year.
“This year’s apple production will be around 21-22 lakh tonnes compared to 20 lakh tonnes last year. This is because orchardists are going for high-density plantations. Of this, 90 per cent of the crop falls under A grade,” Shafiqa Khalid, Deputy Director of the Department of Horticulture, said.
She said there were plans afoot to bring 5,500 hectares of land under 12 crops in the next five years. “Most of it will have apple plantations,” she said.
However, an organisation of fruit growers and dealers feel that the yield might not be that high.
“Due to adverse weather conditions, production is less than the previous year. Around 40 per cent of the crop is damaged due to hailstorms and diseases. It is obvious if the production will be low the size of the fruit will be better but the results are mixed in many areas of Kashmir. There is a dearth of rain currently which is needed to help in gaining colour on the fruit,” Bashir Ahmad Basheer, President Fruit Growers and Dealers Association, said.
Basheer said there was a deficiency of CA stores in the valley, especially in north Kashmir. “North and central Kashmir areas are facing a shortage of CA stores. Most of the CA stores are in South Kashmir,” he added.
The demand for CA stores is getting louder as a substantial part of last year’s apple production was wasted due to the frequent closure of the Srinagar-Jammu national highway.
Shafiqa Khalid said the transportation issue has been taken care of.
“Previous year’s highway blockade issue has been taken care of as we have created groups which consist of teams from the Department of Traffic Police, Horticulture Planning and Marketing and Administrative Department of Horticulture. Everyone is working in coordination to keep close vigilance on the highway and other routes,” she added.
She said there was a scheme under Mission for Integrated Development for Horticulture for setting up CA stores which will benefit the farmers by fetching them better returns during the off-season.
Basheer said there have been no problems so far this year.
While Kashmir valley contributes around 80 per cent of the apple production of the country, the erratic weather in Himachal and Uttarakhand has destroyed the crops in these two hill states, which is expected to translate into better prices for apples from the union territory.
“The market of Kashmiri apple is a bit better than that of Himachal Pradesh. The production is low in both Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. In some areas, around 70 per cent of fruit has been damaged and in some only 10 per cent so in totality we can say around 30 per cent of fruit is damaged,” he added.
Officials said 70 per cent of Kashmir’s population is directly or indirectly dependent on horticulture, mainly apple cultivation. Although scab disease has hit high-density varieties of apple too, it has yielded satisfactory crops.
The government officials and industry might not be on the same page on the expected yield this year but the technical staff at one of the nurseries here say that the introduction of new varieties has ensured higher yield compared to indigenous varieties.
“Recently we have introduced a number of new varieties that are market competitive. Various varieties of apples are grown in sample fields, like Jeromine, Gala, Mima Gala, Gala Redlum, these are market competitive. If farmers grow these varieties, they will get remunerative prices in the market,” Mohammad Amin Bhat, Technical officer at the Directorate of Horticulture, said.
He said there was a proposal of adopting these varieties in the orchards of Kashmir alongside the traditional varieties.
“Till now through the government and some private orchardists have planted these new varieties of apple in private capacity but through the department, more than 6 hectares of land have been covered under this scheme.
Through holistic development plan, we are now proposing the rejuvenation of the orchards in which traditional trees will be top-worked. We are also replanting new varieties in those orchards. Government is working on both fronts – qualitatively as well as quantitatively,” he added.
Bhat said the traditional apple cultivation fetches 12 metric tonnes per hectare but through high-density plantation the yield can go up to 16 metric tonnes per hectare.
Nearly 1.60 lakh hectares of land is under apple cultivation in Kashmir and the government is helping the farmers through various schemes by providing machinery at subsidized rates for maintaining apple orchards. (PTI)