Shimla: With Valentine`s Day just round the corner, Himachal Pradesh, famous for producing strawberries, is flooded with orders for the heart-shaped fruit.
"The demand for strawberries is certainly quite good due to approaching Valentine`s Day. Most of the farmers have started harvesting well in advance," said B.S. Thakur, a fruit wholesaler at Solan town, some 45 km from here.
"Currently, we are selling 150 to 200 trays of strawberry - each 250 gm - on a daily basis. Till last week, only 50 to 75 trays were sold. Its market is mainly in Chandigarh, Punjab and Delhi," Thakur told reporters.
The price of a tray ranges between Rs.50 and Rs.70 in the wholesale market, he added.
Traders in Shimla say that the demand would certainly remain high till Feb 14 - Valentine`s Day.
"Strawberries are much sought after at places that are frequented by tourists and youngsters. One tray easily fetches between Rs.100 and Rs.120," said Rashid Mohammed, a fruit vendor.
He says that strawberries grown in the hills command much higher price that those in the plains.
Anticipating a huge demand on Valentine`s Day, most of the vendors have procured additional trays of strawberries.
"Since its shelf life is eight to 10 days, we have stocked additional trays to meet the demand," Rashid added.
Strawberries are mainly grown in temperate areas of Sirmaur district, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the total yield in the state.
"The strawberry crop generally starts arriving in the market in early March. But some farmers have started cultivating early varieties like `Ofra`. The crop has already hit the markets," said horticulture deputy director Suresh Katoch.
At least 125 farmers in Sirmaur are growing strawberries on 55 hectares of land. The heart of this activity is along a 15 km stretch from Paonta Sahib to Dhaula Kuan in Sirmaur district. It`s also grown in Kullu, Una, Shimla and Kangra districts.
"The demand for strawberries is quite high due to approaching Valentine`s Day. Some farmers have already despatched the fruit to Delhi where there is a huge spike in demand," Sanjay Aggarwal, a strawberry grower near Paonta Sahib, said.
"On an average, 1,000 trays are reaching Delhi and Chandigarh every day from the Paonta Sahib areas alone. Late varieties like `Sweet Charlie` and `Chandler`, that command much demand in the fruit processing industry, would be ready for harvesting by end of February," Aggarwal added.
The strawberry production in the state was 500 quintals in 2010.