Floods turn Himachal apple business 'sour'

By Vishal Gulati

Shimla, Aug 29 (IANS) Due to rain fury and floods, record harvest of apples this season after two consecutive lean years of its production have not brought cheers on the faces of the growers in Himachal Pradesh.

Farmers and trade insiders say this season the overall production, which has been erratic in the past, is good but floods in many states has drastically reduced its demand that further created a glut-like situation, turning the apple business 'sour'.

"As harvesting began in July, growers started piling up their crop in the markets to earn higher rates. Within a few weeks, the price started tumbling owing to glut-like situation," trader Abhishek Nanta at the Dhalli wholesale fruit marker, near here, told IANS.

Later, floods in most of the prominent states like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra has reduced its demand drastically.

Superior grades like Royal Delicious, Red Chief, Super Chief, Oregon Spur and Scarlet Spur also started arriving by mid-August but the price failed to pick up owing to glut-like condition in most of the markets outside the state, mainly Chandigarh and Delhi.

Sher Singh Chauhan, a farmer based in Nankhari in Shimla district, said apple production this season was optimum after eight to 10 years, but the demand was poor.

"The floods in Maharashtra and Gujarat that are the prominent trading hubs of Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Pradesh and Karnataka have impacted our earnings. This year the quality of the fruit was good but the prices was bad," he said.

Chauhan said the bumper production has made his business not profitable.

This season was doubly whammy for the fruit growers.

"Earlier, the bumper production of cherries had dropped the prices. Now the low price of apple is hitting the growers," Chauhan said, adding only the plum was remunerative crop this time.

According to him, a 20 kg box of Royal Delicious is fetching between Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,800 in Dhalli, while it was around Rs 2,800 last year.

Likewise, Spur varieties are getting up to Rs 2,000 a box, almost Rs 1,000 less compared to last year.

State Horticulture Director M.L. Dhiman told IANS that about 3.7 crore boxes of apples are being estimated in the state this year.

He said 60 per cent of the crop has been harvested till date.

Himachal Pradesh is one of India's major apple-producing regions, with more than 90 per cent of the produce going to the domestic market.

Last year, the state produced 2.18 crore apple boxes, the second consecutive year of less-than-normal yield of 2.5 crore boxes. In 2017-18, the apple production was 2.23 crore boxes.

The delicious variety of apples from Kinnaur district, known for their natural sweetness, colour and succulence, will hit the markets in mid-October.

Agro commodities trading house Adani Agrifresh has targeted to procure 23,000 tonnes of apples this season.

Besides Adani, other prominent private trading houses like CONCOR, Reliance Fresh, Mother Dairy, Big Basket and Dev Bhoomi are also procuring apples.

Surveys of the Horticulture Department show the productivity of apple ranges from six to 11.5 tonnes per hectare in the state, in comparison to 35 to 40 tonnes per hectare in more advanced countries.

The area under apple cultivation in Himachal Pradesh has increased from 3,025 hectares in 1960-61 to 112,500 hectares in 2017-18, which constitutes more than 50 per cent of the total area under fruit cultivation.

To rejuvenate the apple plantation, which largely dates back to British era, and the long-term development of the horticulture sector, the $171.50 million (Rs 1,134 crore) World Bank-funded project is being implemented in the state through the Himachal Pradesh Horticulture Development Society.

Till date, the expenditure of Rs 91.60 crore has been incurred on various activities. About 13.48 lakh planting material has been imported, Horticulture Minister Mohinder Thakur informed the Assembly in a written reply on August 23.

The duration of the project is seven years and will last till 2022-23.

Besides apples, other fruits like pear, peach, cherry, apricot, kiwi, strawberry, olive, almond and plum are the major commercial crops of the state.

(Vishal Gulati can be reached at [email protected])

--IANS

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