Even as apple growers in Himachal Pradesh have been busy rejuvenating their orchards, the risk of farm diseases has simultaneously increased with most growers being ill informed and the government apathetic about the issue. Most apple plants in the state are seedlings of the 'royal delicious' variety and now many growers have shifted to other varieties.
During the plantation season (January to March) several nursery owners and traders have been contacting the growers with so called imported varieties and the latter have been purchasing and planting the seedlings without verification.
KD Verma, a horticulture scientist and farmer, said strict compliance with quarantine guidelines is imperative. "We follow the western model but those countries are battling with codling moth and fire blight diseases," he added.
There are several registered and unregistered nurseries of apple cultivators in the state and every one claims to be the best. But in the government list only over a hundred are registered while the rest are self-claimed authenticated nurseries selling hundreds of thousands of plants of different varieties every year.
"But there are no checks whether the plants are safe or carrying any disease or virus. In other countries the plants are uprooted and the land treaded if find some virus is found," Verma added.
If growers in the state want their produce to compete with imported apples, introduction of new varieties are necessary.
"The latest apple rootstock varieties like m111,m 9 and m 793 need to be grown as they bear quality fruit early," said Lakshman Thakur, an apple grower who recently returned from Italy where he had gone to study the apple industry.
He also pointed out the gap between research and extension wing of the state horticulture department as well as university.
In recent time several progressive growers have been importing the apple plants from various countries and said to have followed the quarantine guidelines, but the state government has done nothing to check its authenticity.
Earlier this year the government proposed an amendment in the 40-year-old Himachal Pradesh Fruit Nurseries Registration & Certification (Regulation) Act, 1973 but nothing came of it.