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Luscious, crunchy, Himachal apples tastier but costlier



Shimla, July 30 (IANS) Big, crunchy and luscious apples from Himachal Pradesh are tastier this time, but they are going to pinch your wallet more.

State horticulture department estimates say the state is expected to produce 25-30 percent less apples this season compared to last year’s bumper production of over 32.2 million boxes.

Experts attribute the low output to the prolonged winter spell and lack of adequate rainfall when the apple crop was ripening between May and June.

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 harvesting of apples, though delayed by a week or two, has started and it would pick up speed by the middle of August. As per our estimate, around 10,000 to 15,000 boxes are coming daily at different markets in the state," horticulture department director Gurdev Singh told IANS.

Trade representatives say initial market trends indicate the price of apples will remain higher throughout the season.

Currently, they say, the crop is coming from the lower altitudes (less than 6,000 ft) of Shimla, Kullu and Mandi districts. In the middle reaches, where the crop is moderate but the quality is good, fruit plucking will start by Aug 15 and will continue till September.

"This year, prices are almost 25-30 percent higher compared to last year," Partap Chauhan, a wholesaler at the Dhalli apple market near here, told IANS.

Early varieties such as Red June, Summer Queen and Tydeman’s Early Worcester, though inferior in quality, are reaching markets in Chandigarh, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi and commanding good prices, he added.

Superior grades like Royal Delicious, Red Chief, Super Chief, Oregon Spur and Scarlet Spur have also started arriving but the supply would only pick up by the middle of August.

Tydeman’s Early Worcester is currently being sold in Dhalli for up to Rs.1,000 a box of 22.5 kg, almost Rs.200-Rs.300 higher than last year, Chauhan said.

He said a box of Royal Delicious is fetching between Rs.1,200 and Rs.2,400 a box in Dhalli, while it was around Rs.1,600 last year. Likewise Spur varieties are getting up to Rs.3,000 a box.

The price of a crate increases by Rs.50-Rs.100 in the Delhi and Chandigarh wholesale markets.

Suresh Shandil, an apple grower in Chailla in upper Shimla, said: "The yield is less this season, we can say 25 to 30 percent, but the quality of the fruit is quite healthy."

Giri Bahadur, a caretaker of an orchard in Sharontha in Rohru tehsil of Shimla district, one of the prominent apple belts, said the crop still required 15-20 days to mature.

Upper Shimla areas, which account for 80 percent of the total apple production, are now seeing congenial weather with plentiful rainfall.

The state government this time has notified that each carton will contain 22.5 kg of apples, while half a carton will contain 11 kg fruit. This includes the weight of the carton. Earlier it was a 20 kg box.

Traders say the other factor that led to a hike in apple prices this time is the enhancement of freight charges by truckers by 12 percent.

Horticulture is a vital sector in the state’s economy as it generates more than Rs.3,200 crore annual income.

To attract private investment the state allows the private investors to get land at a token lease money of Re.1 for setting up controlled atmosphere stores in the rural areas.

Apple alone constitutes about 93 percent of the total fruit produce in the state.

Surveys of the state horticulture department show the productivity of apple ranges from 6 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 106,440 hectares in 2012-13, which constitutes more than 49 percent of the total area under fruit cultivation.

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