Compiled by: Vikram Singh Rawat
Though apple growers in Himachal have been lucky, despite fall in production, that the crop is fetching high price in the market this season, it is high time they show foresight to remain competitive. As of now growers in Himachal appear not to have been damaged by the entry of relatively high priced and high quality imports, but the home advantage may not last long as hardly any efforts are being made to boost earning by improving quality and increasing yield to compete with imported apples. There are several factors including market forces, changing climate and also attitude that need to be worked out to save apple cultivation in the state.
Consumption growth low despite rising income
India’s per capita apple consumption of about 1.35 kg per year is low relative to other major apple producing countries. This is simply because apple is the relatively highest–priced fruit in India.
Decelerating apple production in Himachal
Indian apple production averaged nearly 1.4 million tons during 2002-2004, making it the sixth largest apple producer in the world, while its average yield, about 5.5 metric tons per hectare is the lowest of the major world producers. Production is concentrated in a few regions of northern India where the climate suits production of temperate zone crops such as apples.
Annual growth rate of India’s area, production, and per hectare yield of apples have been decelerating since the 1970s. Although harvested area has expended since 1990, declining average yield has slowed annual production growth to about 1.6 percent. Output growth has been slower than that of several major world producers, most notably China and Chile, but it has been near the average for the major world producers and significantly stronger than in the United States, France and Italy.
Most apple orchards in India are 30 years old or older and are characterised by declining yield and lack of fruit uniformity in terms of shape, size and colour. The low productivity and poor quality of apples is linked to monoculture of a few old cultivars and that have degenerated over the years. For example, in Himachal Pradesh, only a few old cultivars, such as Royal Delicious and Rich Red account for most apple area.
Farmers are increasingly concerned about problems with apple scab disease, outbreak of premature leaf fall and infestation of red spider mite on these varieties, although more than 700 accessions of apples introduced from abroad have been tried and tested during last 50 years, the delicious group of cultivar still accounts for 83 percent of production in Himachal Pradesh.
Many factors for low apple yields
• Non availability and awareness of clonal rootstocks and advanced apple varieties in the state.
• Poor extension services by the state horticulture departments for the promotion of technology up gradation, adoption of clonal rootstocks.
• 82 % growers of Himachal Pradesh grow apples as supplementary crop. So their main concern is with the other conventional crops. Thus, many farmers keep best land for conventional crops, to secure their living.
• Awareness among the farmers in regards to the advance technique of apple farming like high density apple plantation on clonal rootstocks.
• Erratic moisture and poor water use efficiency: India’s monsoon climate provides highly seasonal and erratic rainfall in apple producing areas. The mountainous conditions reduce the efficiency with which available moisture is used by the crop.
• Low use of organic fertilisers: typically used below recommended levels and due to use of old convention seedling rootstock the nutrient uptake is also low, also because of the terrain. However, this uptake in clonal rootstock is very high.
• Weather: weather conditions, such as spring frost and hailstorms, reduce productivity.
• Technology: As mentioned use of clonal rootstocks, renewal pruning technique, and micro nutrient application. At present these technologies are not being adopted by the growers, still apple is being grown with traditional way.
• Use of fertilizers: generally growers do not use fertilizers and micro nutrients according to the need of soil, plant, but some farmers also use excessive use of these fertilisers.
• Farmers are least concerned about the soil health and, rarely, few people go for soil analyses test.
Samuel Evans Stokes of Philadelphia introduced apple in Himachal Pradesh in the early 20th century and farmers can still be seen cultivating the same variety of apples and using the same planting pattern of growing cultivars on seedling stock. Though the government of Himachal Pradesh has imported apple trees in the last 6-7 years, it has not been successful in propagating the rootstocks in sufficient quantity to meet the requirement of apple growers. The growth in propagation has been stagnant. Cultivar can be propagated easily, but for rootstock either it can be propagated through tissue culture or in stool bed.
Changing climate is also challenging apple production adversely. The need is awareness, planning and adoption of the appropriate technology like selection of rootstock, variety, advanced pruning techniques, knowledge of nutrients requirements of growing and fruit giving plants and above all soil analyses.
More than 60 % of India’s total income is shared by only 40 % of population. But, even if we assume that apple is confined to this 40 % high income group, per capita consumption of 3.5 Kg is still low in comparisons with other major producing countries. We have enormous market potential available for apples, but the only thing needed is to increase production by increase in growing area or increasing yield by adopting scientific way of cultivation. Till date the cost of production of apple is 1/12 of cost of production in USA. We have only three major diseases (insect threat or Fungus attacks) against seven threats for apple growers in United States.
American growers get only two-and-a-half times of their investment returns in apples, but it is surprising that Himachal growers get thirteen times of their investment. And those who are doing it scientifically are getting more than twenty times.
(Data collected from: Economic survey, Govt. of India, National Horticulture Board, FAOSTAT(Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and study done by Satish Dhar, Associate professor at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, India. Maurice Landes and Berry Krissoff, senior economist, USDA Economic Research Service)