By Rakesh Lohumi | Shimla
It has not been a good season for the apple growers of Himachal so far. While unfavourable weather conditions, particularly frequent spells of hailstorms, have affected the quality and quantum, demonetisation, GST and imported apple are likely to cast a shadow on the apple market.
As per the official estimates, the total production is likely to be around 2.75 crore standard boxes (20 kg each) but farmers’ bodies like the Himalayan Apple Growers Society (HAGS) maintains that output would be much less, in the range of 2 crore to 2.25 crore boxes. Further, the quality of good quality apple will be much less as the crop in Shimla district, which accounts for 70 percent of the state’s total production, has been extensively damaged by hailstorms. The four anti-hail guns installed by growers by pooling their own resources did not help.
The impact of This is the second consecutive season that growers have to contend with a poor crop. Last year total a total of 2.65 crore standard boxes were produced, down from previous year’s output of 3.77 crore boxes
There is very little crop below the altitude of 7000 ft and this is the reason that not much fruit is reaching the market in the beginning of the harvesting season, says Prakash Thakur, Vice Chairman of HPMC(Horticulture Produce Processing and Marketing Corporation). The impact of demonetisation, which severely affected the cash-transaction dominated fruit and vegetables market, is still lingering and the switchover to GST from this month has further hurt the market sentiment, he further explains.
That is not all the strengthening of the Rupee over the past few months has added to the woes of apple growers as imported Washington apple from the United states is being sold at Rs 2200 per box at Delhi market. The price is so low that even the companies which had stored local produce in CAS (controlled atmosphere store) for sale during summer months have suffered losses. The interests of the growers can be protected only by raising the import duty, non-tariff barriers bein pu in place to restrict imports selectively will not help, Mr Thakur asserts.
The government has decided to implement the Market Intervention Scheme (MIS) for procurement of apple for the current season on the analogy of previous years to help provide remunerative price to the fruit growers. In all 55,849 tonnes of fruit , about 10 percent of the total production, will be procured under MIS through government procurement agencies HIMFED and HPMC. The procurement price is fixed at Rs. 6.75 per kg ,up from last year’s rate of Rs. 6.50 per kg.
However, growers want the government to start procurement by August 1 instead of the usual date of August 15. Rajiv Chauhan, a progressive grower of Jubbal and the moving spirit behind HAGS points out that the percentage of poor quality fruit will be much higher because of damage due to hailstorms and it has to be procured. He maintains that despite all factors good quality apple from well maintained orchards always fetches handsome returns but the overall returns will be hit as percentage of good quality apple will is very less.