The state's biggest grape producer, Bathinda, is losing its taste for the fruit. Its grape production share has fallen from 75%, making farmers switch to kinnow, which gives them twice the return, horticulture development officer Narinderjit Singh Sidhu has confirmed.
"The major reason for the switch is (the absence of) marketing," he said. "As there is no proper place here to store and sell grapes, producers have to travel outside."
"The change of climatic conditions is the other reason," said Sidhu, "Only from 1985 to 1990, the conditions were stable. From each acre, farmers earn up to Rs 70,000 if they grow grape, but up to Rs 1.50 lakh if the crop is kinnow." Since the year 2008-09, the decline in grape production is steep, and today, the figure has fallen to a fourth of what it was before the year 2005-06.
Sadhu Singh of Burj Mehma village was first farmer to grow grapes in Bathinda district. That was 1969. Low yield, unstable climate, and the absence of market facilities have made him turn to kinnow. "Our entire village was first to get into the production of grapes but improper marketing conditions made us step back," said Jagsir Singh, son of Sadhu Singh. "Selling required us to travel to neighbouring states, which gave us minimal return."
Punjab Agro Industries Corporation had promised to build cold stores and the Punjab government had agreed to create wine factories. "I don't know how many years it will take for the projects to materialise," said Jagsir Singh. "To revive the grape culture, the government should either invite wine makers to open ventures in the state or lay better marketing conditions."
Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana, collected soil and branch samples many times from the area to know the reason for falling production but never sent back the results. "Even if we make Rs 5 per kilogram for grape, we can earn between Rs 70,000 and 75,000 from each acre under the crop, but the downfall in production and storage facilities has made us quit the field."
Last hope gone
In 1996, horticulture scientist Wajak brought his country's technology to the state to improve the quality of its grapes. The technology lasted only a few years because Punjab's farmers looked for quantity, not quality.
"Wajak taught Punjab the Israeli technique," said horticulture development officer Narinderjit Singh Sidhu. "Bunches were separated in the flowering stage itself, brushed with plastic bristles for thinning and making gaps to allow each grape to grow. More flowers in a bunch didn't allow proper growth."
"Later, the bunches were dipped in gibberellic acid twice within a few days to harden the outer surface if flowers and improve quality by spacing the development. "However, farmers in Punjab preferred quantity to quality and the technique failed in just a few years," said Sidhu.