Even as stonefruit crops had to face vagaries of weather, cherries that have emerged as an alternative fruit crop in the apple growing areas of the state are fetching fairly high prices in markets both within and outside the state.
Conditions in high altitude areas in Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Chamba and Kinnaur districts are conducive for cherry cultivation while Narkanda, Kotgarh, Kotkhai, Baagi and Thanedhar in Shimla district and Kullu and Anni in Kullu district are known as the main centres for cherry cultivation. Around 20,000 marginal farmers are in cherry cultivation and growing over 20 varieties on over 500 hectares of areas.
Earlier in April inclement weather increased farmers' worries as blossoming of stonefruits was affected. The almond crop faced the maximum losses due to bad weather. However, clear skies in April end and May so far are favorable for the cherry crop and orchards have turned crimson with several varieties ready for harvesting.
After growing the normal variety, cultivators are now turning towards qualitative cherry varieties including 'deuro nera', 'stella', 'merchant' and 'celsius', having a longer shelf life and farmers are also cultivating Black Heart, Guigne Noir Gross, Biagarreau Napoleon, Lambart and Bing. Fruit cultivators have started diversifying stonefruit crops of which cherries are more remunerative, fetching prices of `150 to `200 per kilogram in Himachal markets and `250 in Delhi.
Himachal's fruit market is faced with marketing problems but for cherry traders used to camp at orchard sites. Several fruit traders have been camping in Narkanda, Baagi, Thanedhar and procuring cherries directing from the farmers and fetching good prices. "We're getting `100 per kilo for our produce in our orchard," said Pratap Chauhan, a cherry grower from Kotgarh, adding: "I'll sell my entire cherry produce to traders camping nearby as it will incur no transportation and other expenditure."
Shimla based trader Rohit Kumar said cherries are a very delicate fruit and have the low shelf life. "But they are in great demand and prices will remain high unless a slump hits the market," he said.
Small farmers are turning towards cherry cultivation from other stonefruits including almonds. "Other fruits, even apples, require more effort and investment while cherries need only 45 days and do not require any chemicals or sprays," said Pawan Chauhan, a fruit grower from Kotkhai.
Year Production Area under cultivation
2013-14 1183mt 460 hectares
2012-13 412mt 456 hectares
2011-12 433mt 492 hectares
2010-11 1039mt 480 hectares
2009-10 419 MT 453 hectares