The sweet apple of Kashmir has turned bitter for its growers.
A lethal disease has hit the apple orchards causing huge financial losses to the growers and dealers in the Valley.
Fruit growers say conservative estimates put the financial losses at more than Rs100 crore.
Scientists said alternaria has hit 10- 12% of the apple orchards in the Valley. The disease chokes the food supply to the tree which ultimately leads to the premature leaf fall.
Soaring temperatures, high humidity level and intermittent rains in the last quarter of the season has created conducive atmosphere for the disease to sprout.
“The disease affects the colour development of the apples.
The apples, which were supposed to be sold as A-grade quality in the market, now will not fall in that category. For instance if this category of apples were to be sold at Rs500 per box, it will now fetch only half of it,” Manzoor Ahmad, subject material specialist, horticulture department, Kashmir, told dna.
Horticulture is the mainstay of the economy in Kashmir with 23 lakh people associated with it. Fruit production in the state was 17.42 lakh metric tonnes of which apple comprised 13.47 lakh metric tonnes in 2012-13. The production would have been 23.42 lakh metric tonnes last year but nearly 6.10 lakh metric tonnes were destroyed by hail storm and high speed wind. Official figures reveal that the turnover of the fruit industry was Rs4,200 crore last fiscal.
Horticulturists are expecting 21 lakh metric tonnes of the fruit production this year. This year the expectation was more but cold climate during flowering season affected the orchards in some areas of the Valley which is again bound to affect the overall production.
Kashmir’s fruit season starts in May when first crop of cherry is harvested. It is followed by pears and other fruits which hit the market in months. Apple is almost the last crop that hits the market in autumn. Bulk of the apples is exported to the markets in Delhi. Some of the crop also is sold in Bangalore, Mumbai, Ahmadabad and other cities.
This season, however, the apple growers are rattled by the ‘alternaria’ which can affect the overall fruit development in the Valley.
“We have suffered huge losses. Preliminary estimates show the loss worth Rs100 crore. It can go up as and when further reports will start pouring in. We had requested the government to bring experts from outside state because local scientists have failed to control it,” said Bashir Ahmad Bashir, president, New Kashmir Fruit Association.