With global warming causing temperatures to rise and snowfall to decrease, the apple you eat might never be the same again as new varieties of the fruit find favour with cultivators looking to adapt to the change in weather patterns.
New low-chilling and early maturing varieties of the fruit are being introduced in the lower-altitude areas of states like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand as cultivation of the traditional types is gradually shifting to the higher altitudes.
"It is getting difficult to grow traditional varieties in lower altitudes up to the height of 4,000-ft because of global warming and unpredictable weather conditions. So, we have been adopting new varieties in the last 1-2 years," Rakesh Singh, president of Sev Utpadak Sangh (Apple Growers Association) of Himachal, told PTI.
Singh, who owns orchards in Shimla's Kotgarh, said the new varieties, developed using rootstock and clones, taste different but are good enough to suit Indian consumers' palate.
Scientists also agree that the low-chilling varieties of apple like 'Michael', 'Tropical Beauty', 'Schoolmate', etc. are the best bet for farmers.
"As the cultivation of apples is gradually shifting upwards to higher altitudes, we need these new varieties which mature early and have a lower requirement of chilling hours. They can help us mitigate the impact of climate change on apple," said Dr Nazeer Ahmad, director of Central Institute of Temperate Horticulture (CITH), in Jammu and Kashmir's Srinagar.
Weather records show that snowfall has decreased as the winters are now warmer than two-three decades back in the Himalayas. A drop in cultivation of apples has been reported in parts of Himachal Pradesh as the crop needs around 1200–1500 hours of chilling.
Uma Partap, Agriculture Specialist, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Nepal's Kathmandu, said that the impact of climate change on crop productivity is being felt across the Hindukush Himalayan belt.
"Over the years, snowfall has reduced drastically. Less snow and reduced soil moisture is influencing cultivation practices. The rising temperature, erratic rainfall, unexpected frost and hailstorm, and emergence of new pests and diseases are symptoms of climate change," she said.
Apple is one of the most important commercial crops of the Himalayan region. Himachal Pradesh has more than 1 lakh hectares under apple cultivation, which provides the livelihood for more than two lakh farmers.
Data of the last two decades for major apple-growing areas (Shimla, Kullu, Lahaul and Spiti) indicates that the minimum temperature is decreasing per year from November to April, whereas the maximum has been showing an increasing trend from November to April, states a report by H R Gautam of Dr Y S Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry in Solan district of Himachal Pradesh.
Horticulture experts at CITH are experimenting as to how the new varieties of apple taste when grown in orchards of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh, and in Tamil Nadu at Ooty and Kodaikanal.
Normally an apple crop matures in 160-180 days while the early-maturing ones are ready in 130-140 days.
"In some places, the farmers are also shifting to other crops like peach, plum, walnut, etc. which do well under the changed climate," he said.
Due to changes in temperature and precipitation, new pests are also finding a home in the apple orchards.
"Insects like flea beetle, apple scab, white grub, etc. are increasing now. They are also damaging the crops," he said.
The three Himalayan states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand produce more than 95% of India's apples.