Shimla: The apple business in Himachal Pradesh, one of India's major producers of the fruit, is heading to be juicy this season with the state eyeing a bumper production of 37.5 million boxes of 20 kg each, or 750,000 tonnes, horticulture experts say.
But the size of the fruit is smaller this time due to hostile climatic conditions in April when the crop was blooming - the period when the flowers start to blossom.
"We are expecting an apple production around 3.75 crore boxes, which is approximately 750,000 tonnes, in the state. This is fairly larger than the last year's production of around 2.9 crore boxes," the state's horticulture director, D.P. Bangalia, told IANS.
He said the harvesting of the early apple varieties have begun and the fruit is heading to the Chandigarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Karnataka markets.
More than a million boxes have been sold till last month, he said.
The state's fruit economy generates around Rs.3,500 crore ($55 million) per year and apples alone constitute 89 percent of this. Most of the apples are grown in Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Lahaul-Spiti, Kinnaur and Chamba districts.
The normal apple yield in the state is 25 million boxes or 500,000 tonnes. In 2010-11, there was a record production of 892,000 tonnes.
Traders in the Dhalli apple market near here said the apples are small in size but command good prices.
"We are getting apples from lower belts of Shimla these days. On an average 20,000 boxes of apples are daily reaching and most of the crop is heading to Delhi," apple trader Pratap Chauhan told IANS.
He said due to rains in the hills, the supply is less.
"In Delhi the demand is quite high. Despite the small size and lack of colour, the apples are getting good prices," Chauhan added.
Jagdish Manta, a farmer from Jubbal in upper Shimla, said harvesting has only begun in low hills of Shimla but in the mid-hills it would take time, almost two weeks, for the superior varieties to attain optimum size and true colour.
Early varieties such as Red June, Summer Queen and Tydeman's Early Worcester, though inferior in quality, are reaching the markets.
Superior grades like Royal Delicious, Red Chief, Super Chief, Oregon Spur and Scarlet Spur have also started arriving but the supply would only pick up by mid-month.
The Royal Delicious variety is currently being sold in Dhalli for up to Rs.1,800 a box, almost Rs.400 higher than last year, while Golden is fetching Rs.500 to Rs.700 against around Rs.400 last year.
The price of a crate increases by Rs.50-Rs.100 in the Delhi and Chandigarh wholesale markets.
Surveys of the state horticulture department say the apple productivity ranges from 6 to 11.5 tonnes per hectare, in comparison to 35 to 40 tonnes in more advanced countries.
Himachal Pradesh's apple boom is credited to Satyanand (Samuel Evans Stokes Junior), an American missionary who first introduced high-quality apples in the Kothgarh-Thanedar belt in upper Shimla in the early 1920s.
The apple yield was 739,000 tonnes in 2013-14, while it was 412,000 tonnes in 2012-13, 275,000 tonnes in 2011-12, says the state's economic survey for 2014-15.
The harvesting of the apples in Himachal Pradesh will continue till mid-October.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)