SHIMLA: The apple of your eye has turned smaller in Himachal Pradesh!
Horticulture experts blame the weather and a bumper crop for not enabling the apple fully mature. But it has attained true colour.
Markets across the country are flooded with smaller- sized apples. Top quality apples, whose optimum size ranges from 80mm to 85mm are available from 55mm to 65mm, S.P. Bhardwaj, a former joint director at the Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and
He said even 70 mm apples are rare in the market.
The hill state is one of India's major apple-producing regions, with more than 90 percent of the produce going to the domestic market.
The horticulture department estimates the state is heading for a bumper production of 37.5 million boxes of 20 kg each, or 750,000 tonnes, against the normal yield of 25 million boxes.
Last year's production was around 29 million boxes.
Trade representatives say initial crop arrival trends indicate the size of apples will remain smaller throughout the season.
Currently, the crop is mainly coming from the lower altitudes (less than 6,000 ft) of Shimla, Kullu and Mandi districts. In the middle reaches, fruit plucking has just started.
"As per the present trend, up to 80 percent of the crop will be smaller in size. However, juice content and colour of the fruit are perfect," agro-commodities trading house Adani Agrifresh deputy general manager Sanjay Mahajan told IANS.
He said bigger-sized apples would definitely fetch higher prices.
The company every year procures apples directly from the farmers in the state and this year plans to procure 30,000 tonnes. The process will start from August 20.
The Upper Shimla areas, which account for 80 percent of the total apple production, are now seeing congenial weather.
Apple grower Phool Chand at Kotkhai in Shimla district said fluctuating climatic conditions, ageing orchards and rising costs of inputs are taking a toll on the overall fruit productivity and its quality.
Bhardwaj said the farmers should delay the harvesting at least by a fortnight to allow the fruit to attain maturity.
"In the middle hills, the temperature is ideal now due to less rain activity and partially sunny conditions. This will help the crop enhance in size. The farmers should either delay harvesting or opt selective plucking. This will help the crop attain optimum size," he said.
According to him, the apples will command better prices if they attain 25 to 30 percent increased size.
He said low temperatures due to frequent spells of rains delayed the development of the fruit in July when the crop was maturing.
The second reason is the bumper crop.
"Heavy flush is also responsible for reducing the size of the crop," Bhardwaj added.
Horticulture department officials say till date over 40 lakh boxes of apple have been sold off.
Officials said the other reason for flooding of unripe apples in the market is the panic harvesting by the growers on encroached land.
The Himachal Pradesh High Court had earlier directed the government to fell trees to evict the encroachers.
However, it amended its interim order on July 27. It asked the government to harvest the apple crop and use the profits from selling the produce for planting forest trees instead of cutting down the fruit-bearing trees.
Horticulture is a vital sector in Himachal Pradesh's economy as it annually generates more than Rs.3,500 crore (approx $54,000).
Apples alone constitute 89 percent of state's total fruit produce.