Poor apple crop likely again in Himachal

Shimla, May 1 (IANS) It could be a second consecutive poor year for Himachal Pradesh's apple crop, according to early estimates by farmers. And many suspect global warming to be the culprit.

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This has made apple farmers gloomy as they were expecting a bumper crop this time after last year's poor output – one of the poorest in recent years.

"Even though harvest is three months away, it appears the late winter snows did not cover up for the damage caused by the dry and not-so-cold winter gone by," said Lekh Raj Chauhan, president of the state apple grower's association.

A cold winter along with frequent snow is needed for a good apple crop.

"Failure of the crop this time again will be truly backbreaking for the farmers, who have not recovered from last year's failure," Chauhan told IANS.

According to government estimates, apple production in the hill state was 265,000 tonnes last year, less than half the production of 540,000 tonnes two years ago.

In fact, 2005 marked a year that ended a string of four bumper crops.

"The crop this time is expected to be marginally better, but it could still end up as a poor crop at the end of the harvest season in October," said Chauhan.

Apple is grown in the mid hills of the state. Shimla district alone accounts for about 80 percent of the yield, followed by Kullu, Kinnuar and Solan districts.

A good crop is worth Rs.15 billion. It is the main cash crop of the state. Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh produce almost the entire apple crop of India.