Bumper harvest spells loss for apple growers

A combination of factors - bumper crop, increasing labour wages, poor marketing, dilapidated roads, unavailability of cold storage and undersized fruit -- are making the apple growers in Himachal Pradesh see red. The apple prices have nosedived suddenly, after thousands of tonnes of apple from the hill state reached the fruit markets.

Fearing uncertainty in markets of Delhi, Punjab, Chandigarh, Rajasthan and Gujarat, a majority of growers are selling their fruits in local markets, where they get cash on the same day. While growers are getting Rs 500 to Rs 700 for a box of 20kg apples of superior quality in Azadpur Sabzi mandi of Delhi, they are getting Rs 30 to Rs 35 for a kg of large sized apples in local markets. Apples were sold for Rs 45 to Rs 60 per kg in local markets during this time of season last year and 20kg box was fetching up to Rs 1,000 in Delhi market. But what has painted a particularly gloomy scenario for growers this time is the fact that 80% of the crop is small and selling for Rs 15 per kg.

President of Kullu fruit growers association, Mahender Upadhyay said thousands of apple boxes are reaching markets from Shimla and Kullu, which is leading to drop in prices. "The main problem is that we do not have cold storages to keep our fruits and growers are forced to sell their ripened harvest at any cost. All apple trees are laden with undersize fruit while demand is for medium and large fruit," he added.

Given the adverse market, many growers have stopped harvesting. But then ripened fruits are dropping from the trees. According to experts, prices are likely to drop further in the next few days as harvesting will gather pace in Kullu, Shimla and Mandi. "Growers in Shimla are sending large quantity of apple to various fruit markets and growers in Kullu are suffering its negative consequences," Upadhyay said.

Disappointed, growers are giving their orchards on contract basis to merchants from Himachal, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. "I purchased orchards with estimates of Rs 1.5 lakh per truck (500 apple boxes). Now that a truck is selling on an average of Rs 2 lakh where Rs 50 to 60 thousand are labour and carriage expenses on one truck, I am incurring losses. I need to sell a truckload for Rs 2.20 lakh at least," said Leeladhar Sharma, a fruit merchant who has purchased many orchards in Khoda-Aage village of Kullu.

"Our link roads are in poor condition. We are not getting what we deserve. While commission agents are becoming wealthy, growers are becoming poorer," a disappointed Chaman Lal, an apple grower from Garhsa village, claimed. In local Kullu market, tomatoes are being sold at a higher price than apples.

Himachal has 1,03,644 hectare land under apples. Of the total 65,186 hectare agricultural land in Kullu, 23,870 hectare is under apple orchards and the area is only increasing every year.

Early ripening varieties (being harvested):
Red June, Red Gold, Royal Delicious, Rica Red

Late ripening varieties:
Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Kali Devi, Commercial, Jonathan

Going rate (in mid August):
2013: Rs 30-35 per kg (large size)
2012: Rs 45-60 per kg (large size)


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