Regular spells of rain in recent weeks have helped the apple crop in Himachal Pradesh and field reports indicate that production will touch a record high this season.
"Field reports say this time there would be an all-time record of apple production. It would definitely cross the 2008-09 mark of 510,000 tonnes," said Horticulture Director Gurdev Singh.
Apple production had declined to 280,000 tonnes last year due to a dry monsoon and a snowless winter.
Horticulturists say sufficient rainfall in the apple belts of Shimla, Kinnaur, Mandi and Kullu districts has increased the moisture content in the soil that has helped the plant get nutrients during fruit maturing season.
"Adequate rainfall in almost all apple-growing areas of the state in the past few weeks will be beneficial for the apple crop as it will help the fruit obtain the optimum size," SP Bhardwaj, former joint director at the Solan-based YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, told IANS.
Gopal Mehta, a prominent apple grower in upper Shimla, said: "The crop has been getting adequate rainfall since the crop enters the pink bud stage (a period when flowering begins in April). We hope this season will compensate the last year's losses."
According to the meteorological office in Shimla, the entire apple belt has seen adequate rain even before the monsoon has set in.
Bhardwaj said in the apple-producing belt of Kothgarh-Thanedar in Shimla district as well as the entire Kullu valley and Mandi district the fruit has exceeded the "walnut stage" (the stage at which the apple fruit is about the size of a walnut). The appropriate size of the fruit is 85 to 110 mm.
However, in higher reaches of Kinnaur district like Pooh, Chango and Ribba the fruit is near the "walnut stage". The high quality apples from Kinnaur command a virtual monopoly and reach markets when the harvesting from other areas is almost over.
Singh said the apple crop is likely to hit the markets in the last week of July.
"By the last week of July, some early varieties like Red Gold, Red June and Tydeman's Early Worcester will reach markets. From the middle of August, the crop from Shimla, Kullu and Mandi districts will start arriving," he said.
Himachal Pradesh's apple boom is credited to Satyanand (Samuel Evans Stokes, Jr) Stokes, an American missionary who first introduced high-quality apples in the Kothgarh-Thanedar belt. The entire belt is known for producing delicious apples of Royal Delicious, Red Delicious and Rich-a-Red varieties.
The economy of Himachal is highly dependent on apple, besides hydropower and tourism. The state's apple industry is worth Rs 1,500 crore.
Besides apples, other fruits like cherries, pears, peaches, apricots, kiwis, strawberries, olives, almonds and plums are the major commercial crops of the state.