Shimla: Unfavourable climatic conditions, especially the extended chilly conditions, have taken the colour out of the cherry business in Himachal Pradesh this year.
Despite the riotous blooming in March, the total yield in the state is estimated to drop by more than half compared to last year. The year 2010-11 saw a record production of 1,039 tonnes.
"Frequent change in climatic conditions during the fruit-setting stage in April has severely affected the cherry crop across the state," Horticulture Director Gurdev Singh told reporters.
As per estimates of the department, the total production would be around 445 tonnes, slightly better than the 2009-2010 production of 419 tonnes.
"There was profuse flowering in March. However, during the fruit setting stage in April, when the plant requires a temperature of 18 to 24 degrees Celsius, the temperature remained eight to 10 degrees below average due to frequent rains. The chilly weather has badly hit the overall production," he added.
Horticulture experts say the total yield this year is normal if one takes the average production into account.
The harvesting of the crop that is in full swing these days would continue till June-end.
The higher reaches of Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Chamba and Kinnaur, at an altitude from 6,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level, are ideal for cherry cultivation.
At least 10,000 small farmers in the state have grown over 20 varieties of cherries on 476 hectares as an alternative fruit crop.
S.P. Bhardwaj, former joint director at the Solan-based Dr. Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, said sufficient snowfall in the past winter has increased the moisture content in the soil that enabled the cherry crop to attain the optimum size, natural taste and fleshy.
Shanti Devi, a grower near Thanedar, the hub of cherry cultivation in upper Shimla, said: "Price-wise, cherries are commanding good prices this year. Last year there was a glut of cherries. The prices suddenly crashed with the onset of harvesting. This year the prices are still 25 to 35 percent more than what we received last year."
Chet Ram Bali, another farmer near Narkanda in Shimla district, said the price of cherry at the Chandigarh wholesale fruit market in the past one week was Rs.100-Rs.120 per box of one kg against last year`s Rs.80.
"But the overall crop loss and the rising costs of labour, packaging and transportation are too high this year," he added.
He said the best varieties of black cherry picked from organic farms have a good demand in Delhi`s Azadpur Mandi.
The economy of Himachal Pradesh is dependent on horticulture, apart from hydroelectric power and tourism.
Besides cherry, the other major commercial crops in the state include apple, kiwi, strawberry, pears, peaches, apricots, almonds and plums.
The fruit industry is worth about Rs.2,000 crore a year.