Himachal heading for a bumper apple harvest

Shimla, June 12 (IANS) There is good news for apple lovers this year. They can expect a good supply of the deep, crunchy crimson apples from Himachal Pradesh, the country's largest apple basket.

The state horticulture department estimates say the state is heading for a bumper apple production, the mainstay of the state's economy, after two consecutive years of less than normal yield.

"We are expecting a production of over 3.75 crore apple boxes (of 20 kg each) this season," Gurdev Singh, director of horticulture, told IANS.

Last year, he said, over 20.4 million boxes were harvested - 20 percent less than state's normal yield of 25 million boxes - while it just 13.6 million crore boxes in 2011.

In both the years, the reduced output was owing to adverse weather - extended winter and the fury of hailstorms when the crop was maturing.

Horticulture experts said plentiful snow in last winter and now good spells of rain have sufficiently increased the moisture content in the soil, which helped the plants obtain sufficient nutrients.

They say early varieties such as Red June, Summer Queen and Tydeman's Early Worcester, though inferior in quality, will start arriving in the markets by the end of July.

Superior grades like Royal Delicious, Red Chief, Super Chief, Oregon Spur and Scarlet Spur will start arriving by the middle of August and their harvesting will continue till November.

"There was some damage to the crop in the recent hailstorms and significant premature fruit dropping too, but overall the crop is healthy. At present, the fruit is in development stage," Gopal Mehta, a prominent apple and cherry grower of Kotgarh in upper Shimla, said.

He said most of the fruit crops in the state, including cherries, pears, peaches, apricots, almonds and plums, are heading to a bumper yield.

Upper Shimla areas, which account for 80 percent of the total apple production, have seen congenial weather with plentiful snow during winter.

Snow is considered white manure for apple orchards.

According to the meteorological office in Shimla, the entire apple belt has seen adequate rain even before the monsoon has set in.

"We are expecting the monsoon will arrive a week in advance," Manmohan Singh, director of the meteorological office here, said.

The monsoon normally hits the state by June 27.

Himachal Pradesh's apple industry, which is currently worth over Rs.2,000 crore, is credited to Satyanand (Samuel Evans Stokes Junior).

Satyanand, an American missionary, first introduced high quality apples in the Kothgarh-Thanedar belt in Shimla district in the early 1920s.

His daughter-in-law, Vidya Stokes, now state horticulture minister, manages most of the family's orchards.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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