Heavy rains that have turned vast areas in Jammu and Kashmir into a sea have damaged the best varieties of Kashmiri apples, that were to hit markets by September-end.
The rains and consequent flooding have come as a curse for apple orchard owners in the Kashmir Valley. Most families in Sopore in north Kashmir and Shopian in the south are involved in the cultivation of the fruit that flourishes in the hilly environment.
The 72-hour heavy downpour over the weekend dealt a virtual blow to their produce. Apples laden on tree branches were scattered on the ground in the wake of the rains.
Abdul Ahad, a fruit grower in Shopian, lost his crop to nature's fury. "The rainfall cost me around Rs 500,000," he lamented.
Kashmiri apples, known for their taste and juice, have already lost a huge market share to those grown in other north Indian states due to the low prices of the latter variety.
But planters in the state maintain that apples grown elsewhere might be cheaper but are not as tasty as the ones grown in Kashmir.
Apple orchards cover around 72 per cent of the Kashmir Valley and the state produces 1.1 million tonnes of apples annually. Nearly 2.5 million people are directly or indirectly associated with this trade.
The fruit industry, along with the tourism sector, goes a long way in sustaining the state's economy.
The horticulture industry in Kashmir earns over Rs 500 million yearly, a major share of which comes from apples.
Just the toll tax levied on apple boxes transported outside Jammu and Kashmir generates Rs 320 million for the state exchequer annually.
Kashmiri apple varieties like the red, glistening Firdous and Amri have over the years become hugely popular the world over.
India is the world's 11th largest apple producer with a total production of 1.5 million tonnes.
The state government has been mulling the establishment of a national fruit market at a cost of Rs 170 million in Sopore to promote horticulture.
"Consumers the world over would rather take a bite at the Granny Smith variety from New Zealand as their packaging is better than the Kashmiri apples. They retail for Rs 100-200 a kg. In comparison, Kashmiri apples retail for around Rs 50-70 per kg although they are far tastier. Now with the nature having the last laugh, we are ruined," said Ghulam Rasool Dar, another fruit grower in Sopore.
Kashmiri apples had witnessed a surge in demand in the domestic market and apple growers were hopeful of exporting apples to other countries.
The opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road in April 2005 for passenger traffic had raised hopes of better trade for apple growers. But the trade routes are yet to open.
Apple traders have demanded the opening of the road to Rawalpindi to boost trade with Pakistan.