Is it the end of apple cycle in Himachal?


By: Bonjour

In wake of present global climate change, a direct impact on apple crop is seen in Himachal Pradesh. Over a century ago, Sachidnand Strokes didn’t think about the fate of apples in the region. Experts say, if a crop is not natural resident of a region but is a foreigner to similar biotic environment, it will multiply rapidly and then there will be a fall in the growth, losing its natural resistance. Somehow, I feel its happening to apple in Himachal.

In 1995 my father had been to Nauni University as part of a delegation from our Block. Even to this day he keeps quoting one Dr. John from US, who had taken some workshop on exchange of ideas about apple varieties and production techniques in the US. Dr. John and his team had forecasted apple production to be limited above 6,000 ft. by 2010. The conclusion was part of global research done by eminent US scientists’ team in wake of global climate change.

Since 2005, in a way I have been keeping a close watch on apple trends in Himachal, especially in Kotkhai-Jubbal and Rohru belt.  In year 2007 snowfall has been limited to above 5,000 feet elevation and sufficient chilling hours I think has been limited above 6,000 ft. In 2008 the snowfall itself was limited up to 6,000 fts and sufficient chilling hours were limited above 7,500 fts in most of areas in of Himachal Pradesh. The results can be seen in the lower belts and lower middle belts as this year these areas are low in apple production.

The summer 2009 has been hotter than usual, deviating 5°C above the normal temperature all across Himachal Pradesh with longer dry spells. The Monsoon could have saved the apple production but the El Nino and La Nino effects weekend it around Deccan Pleatue and there has been not much substantial progress for two weeks.

Seeing the past trends of apple production, the horticulture department was optimistic of achieving a target of 7,00,000 tonnes of apple production. But nature had a different plan. Presently guestimate by various experts and formal estimates by the horticulture department are being pegged around 50% of the last year’s production.

The above production figures for the last 15 years clearly show a cyclic trend of apple production in HP. After a constant growth trend for about 4-5 years there is a sudden fall and most of these falls are due to change in climatic conditions. In year 1999 the production fell to 12.5% of the previous year’s production figures and in 2006 the apple production again saw a steep fall to about 50% as compared to previous year’s level. Both these years, if we remember, have been drought-affected years with scanty of snowfall and rainfall.
In year 1994 the area under apple production was about 75,000 hectares, which increased to over 90,000 hectares by year 2000. Since then the area under apple production has been more or less same.

This was the past and the near present we have seen and I hope that Monsoon will be good enough to save us our bread and better for this year at least, as no one can bet on future by drawing inferences form present climatic scenario. But there is some way ahead to be at least prepared for the future.

For that matter we the people of hills are well aware of global climate change and its future implication on humanity as a whole. (leave aside apples). On my recent visit to Shimla and beyond, I found that people are still not serious and mostly not aware about the business of climate change. Incessant forest fires in the hills right from Barog to Rohru were a common scene this year. The valleys were gutted in thick smoke, and for the first time in my life I couldn’t see the village on the other side of my valley.

In the long run, climatic eclipse might turn into a future apocalypse for apples in lower heights of HP. How long it will take, to know this we have to wait as no one can challenge nature and its cyclic wraths. (I am saying wait here, because seeing the present attitude I don’t think we are preparing or trying to avert this imminent apocalypse)

(Most of the figures and facts are from recent news items and can be crosschecked for authenticity before making it public)

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  1. Yes sir, This is the END and we are writing obituary of Apple now.

    A correction – It is Satyanand and not Sachidnand Stokes as mentioned in the story.

  2. John M Aselage, renowned scientist and also apple grower form Arkansas, USA, consultant for our nursery farm thinks different. He agrees that there has been change in the climatic condition, but this warming is everywhere in the world , Global warming. we need to adopt low chilling promising varieties of apples, and in quality, they are not lower than our old conventional red delicious. He admires Himachal's climate, which is the best in the world for apple production, But we have not exploited this. The only difference between us is we always look upward. Our belief lies on God, for, to be blessed by plenty of apples on our trees.

    The orchardists who pay due attention to their orchards gets crop every year without fail.

    Many pruners who prunes apple trees at altitude of 7000 feet, brings bud wood, from those orchards, to be grafted at 5000 feet in their apple trees/rootstock. The variety for the two altitude must be different.

    From the climatic and topographic points of view, Chile is an extremely variable country. Being such a long and narrow country which lies in a north-south position, the climate varies from extremely dry and hot in the northern desert to wet and cold in the south. The apple yield in Himachal is just 3 tons /hectare against 30 tons of Chile. In apple producing countries our production is the lowest.

    Apple growers know that the quality in terms of taste is the best in himachal apple, just because of the excellent climate and topography we have.

    I would like to share an article in the Tribune, later on I confirmed it from my own sources and it turned out to be a surprising truth.

    Java’s ( Indonesia) minimum temperature comes down to 18 degree centigrade and highest reaches 43. Their apple production is 67 tons per hectare. Isn’t it surprising? They bring their trees into dormancy manually , by removing leaves manually. Tree remains in dormancy at temperature of even at 30 degree for 60 days. After 60 days it start blooming. Another surprise is that they harvest apples round the year .If you visit their farm you will find some people removing leaves to bring it to dormancy, some harvesting apples, in some trees bloom and other have apples. So all stages of apple tree at one time.

    So we need to DO something. Most of the young people running to the towns and becoming absentee land lords. Dependents on Nepali labourer. They are workers, caretakers and ….all and we are short of time to plan our orchards.

  3. God forbid, if the adage "all good things must come to an end" were to apply to himachal apple as well. Is it the global climatic change or slowly killing the hen that laid golden eggs due to negligence or lack of proper planning or even research ?

  4. Mr. Vikram,

    thanks for a positive outlook on the apple production in HP and also for sahring the Chliean and Indonesian experiences.

    Well, its interesting to find such great techniques, but at the same time awreness regarding them and risk to adopt them need to be disseminated to growers of HP.

  5. We have formed group of farmers in Karsog area under Karsog Valley farmers group, a registered society.around 800 different type of farmers.We organise camps on diary,poultry vegetables,exotic vegetables and apples, high tech apples , mushrooms and organic farming. The results of dissemination are positive.

    we are exporting around two tons of english vegetables every day through our Referigerated vans.

    we are teaching growers the different techniques of farming.we have made self supporting groups for high risking agriculture ventures.

    wherever we find platform we share .

  6. this is expected when our govt. is busy clearing cement plant projects in the state instead of doing something material upon conservation of natural resources. Needless to how much more loss than profit we suffer indirectly from such projects i.e. bad condition of road & pollution can be credited to cement plants where hundred of overloaded trucks ply daily to transport raw materials as well as final product. it is another reason the number of fatal accidents in state have risen over recent years. Of late everything seems to be on decline. and we people of India have a habit of looking out for alternative only when things go beyond neck level. this perception needs to be changed. solutions are there but govt. support is inevitable for the people of the state who have limited means.

    • We need to adopt new rootsrocks, low chill requiring apple varietes. People have done it successfully in hostile conditions like California and even Israel. Why can't we do the same here.

      People are still relying on old varietes and lots of hope. Even majority of new orchards are being planted with traditional varietes which won't stand the test of changing weather patterns.

      Technological awareness of orchardists needs to be increased in this direction. We are lagging far behind here. Let science do the trick where hopes and prayers have failed.

  7. Global climate change will certainly affect the growth of apples……but it will take tym………..i guess at least for next 25 yrs apples r not leaving us…….:)

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