Shimla: An apple a day is set to burn a hole in your pocket this year with the apple production in Himachal Pradesh, one of the major producers of the luscious fruit, almost halved due to unfavourable weather.
Official estimates say this year`s apple production would be around 22.5 million boxes of 20 kg each - about 50 percent less than last year`s bumper production of 44.5 million boxes.
But experts believe this year`s apple crop would be more crisp, crunchy and juicy as there is sufficient moisture in the soil that would help the plant get sufficient nutrients.
"An extended winter when the apple crop was in the blooming stage - a period when flowers start to blossom - and a fury of hailstorms that followed when the crop was maturing have severely affected the production this year," Gurdev Singh, director of the state Horticulture Department, told IANS.
Horticulture Minister Narender Bragta, who is also a known apple grower in the state, said the hailstorms in the past two months have badly hit the Kothgarh-Thanedar apple belt in Shimla district, the prominent apple belt in the state.
Hails have so far damaged crops worth over Rs.248 crore, he said. "There are reports of widespread hailstorms in Jubbal, Kotkhai, Rohru, Chopal, Rampur, Sarahan, Theog and Narkanda areas (in Shimla district). However, the crop in Kullu and Mandi districts is comparatively less affected by the hails."
Added Atul Khemta, an apple grower in Kothgarh: "This year the crop was severely affected - first in the fruit setting stage and then when the crop is maturing."
"When the crop in April requires a day temperature between 18 degrees and 24 degrees Celsius to enable the fruit to set in normally, the temperature remained below 14 degrees due to frequent rains. And now when the crop is maturing and it requires showers, frequent hailstorms are damaging the crop. Even the nylon nets failed to protect the crop from hail pellets," he said.
The cherry crop was also badly hit in the region due to weather vagaries, he added.
S.P. Bhardwaj, former joint director at the Solan-based Dr. Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, however believes the apple shortfall is good for farmers.
"Shortfall means more profits. The weather vagaries will, of course, turn out to be a blessing for the farmers. The prices are expected to be 25 to 35 percent more than what the growers got last year," he said.
"Sufficient snowfall in the past winter and intermittent rain showers now have increased the moisture content in the soil that has helped the crop attain the optimum size, true colour and natural taste," he added.
Superior apple varieties like Red Chief, Super Chief and Royal Delicious at the moment are in the "walnut stage" (the stage in which the apple fruit is about the size of a walnut), he said.
The appropriate size of a fruit is 85 mm to 110 mm and it will take more than a month and a half for fruits to reach that girth, he added.
Himachal Pradesh is one of India`s major apple-producing regions, with more than 90 percent of the produce going to the domestic market.
The state`s apple economy is pegged around Rs.1,500 crore, with Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Lahaul and Spiti, Kinnaur and Chamba districts being the hubs.