Himachal Pradesh has installed anti-hail guns, the first in the country, to protect its fruit crops from hailstorms, a minister said on Tuesday.
"Three anti-hails have been installed in fruit-growing belts of Shimla district under a pilot project. More guns would be installed in other areas if the project is successful," Horticulture Minister Narender Bragta told IANS.
He said a radar has been installed at Tumdoo, located at an altitude of 10,000 feet near Khadapathar, while three hail guns have been set up in Jubbal, Kotkhai and Rohru areas.
The move comes when the apple production this season is set to touch a record three crore boxes of 20 kg each. Last year, the production was almost half -- 1.4 crore boxes.
Bragta, himself a prominent apple grower in upper Shimla, said a team of foreign experts is conducting trials on the guns.
The state had cleared the proposal of a US-based company this year to install the guns for the benefit of fruit growers who were suffering recurring losses due to inclement weather conditions.
The central government had allowed the state to take up the initiative of installing the guns as a pilot project and sanctioned Rs.3 crore for it.
The acetylene-fired anti-hail guns send shock waves to puncture hail clouds, resulting in rain instead of the damaging hail. These are effective over a radius of one km and can cover an area of 80-100 hectares.
According to horticulture department estimates, hailstorms damage 20-30 per cent of vegetables and fruit crops in the state every year.
"The use of guns would help in protecting fruit crop worth Rs.50 crore annually," the minister added.
The economy of the hill state is highly dependent on horticulture with the annual fruit industry worth about Rs.2,000 crore.
Fruits like cherry, apple, pear, peach, apricot, kiwi, strawberry, olive, almond and plum are the major commercial crops of the state.
The total fruit production in the state during 2008-09 was 628 million tonnes, out of which apple accounted for 510 million tonnes.