As long as love is in bloom, flowers won't go out of fashion. And floriculturists in Himachal Pradesh will keep laughing their way to the bank, especially around Valentine's Day.
In the last few years, the hill state has made its name in floriculture. Farmers are shifting from traditional crops to flowers and reviving their fortunes.
"Keeping an eye on Valentine's Day (Saturday), most of the farmers in Chamba and Bilaspur districts have started harvesting carnations," state horticulture department assistant floriculturist N.K. Gupta told IANS.
He said these days carnations grown in greenhouses are ready for cultivation. The demand is high in cities like Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Delhi and Dehradun.
"Mid- and high-altitude areas of Solan, Shimla, Sirmaur, Mandi, Kullu, Bilaspur and Chamba districts are ideally suited for floriculture. It's ideal for crop diversification and has a good market in the region," Gupta said.
The farmers are growing commercial varieties of marigold, carnation, tulip, lilium, gladiolus, chrysanthemum and rose.
"There is much demand for carnations in Delhi and Chandigarh markets. These days (around Valentine's Day) a bunch of carnations (20 stems) is selling at between Rs.140 and Rs.180 in the wholesale market," Atul Prashar, a farmer from remote Churah Valley in Chamba district, said on phone.
"Carnations grown in our area are always in high demand and enjoy a virtual monopoly in the cut flower market. This week I sent 2,500 carnation buds to Delhi," he said.
The Churah valley has made its name on the international flower map.
"Keeping the rising demand for roses in mind, especially on V-Day, we start plucking flowers well in advance," said Padam Verma, a prominent rose cultivator of Solan district.
"Most of the farmers in this area are cultivating exotic rose varieties in greenhouses," he said.
These days a rose bud is fetching Rs.20-Rs.25 in Chandigarh, he said. On an average, 5,000 rose buds are reaching Delhi and Chandigarh every day from the Arki and Kunihar areas in Solan district alone.
"Normally the roses are pruned in the first week of October and take about two months to give first flush of bloom. Here we calculate and try pruning at different dates to see that these are available throughout the year," Verma said.
Y.C. Gupta, a floriculture expert at Solan-based Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, said: "Higher returns are luring them (the farmers) to flower cultivation. The diverse agro-climatic conditions in the hill state ensure availability of flowers from different climatic zones round the year.
"Floriculture has also the potential to earn foreign currency from the export of cut flowers, but this needs proper refrigeration, packing and marketing facilities," he said.
According to him, the quality of marigold grown in the state is high and is giving tough competition to flowers grown in Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand.
In 584 hectares of land in Himachal, around 2,500 farmers are involved in flower cultivation. The total earnings from floriculture in the state are around Rs.220 million a year.