Himachal apple growers peeved at sharp drop in prices

Shimla: Dashing hopes of garnering high rates, apple growers are a disgruntled lot as market prices have crashed by one-third in the last week and arrival volumes in the local markets have thinned out.

“From a price band of Rs 2500 to 3000 for a 22 Kg box of quality apples, a drop to Rs 800 to 1200 for the same box within a week, is very unsettling for the fruit growers, said Garish Chauhan, an orchard owner from Kotkhai.

Apple auction underway at Shimla (Dhalli) market

Speaking to Hill Post about the market conditions, Krishan Karol, the leading fruit merchant in Dhalli farm produce marketing yard said, “the prices have fallen sharply because those who bought at prices in the early arrival market have suffered heavy trading losses when selling in the Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai markets.”

Trading losses incurred combined with a lot many traders, especially the Muslim traders who headed home to celebrate Eid, has further reduced demand, bringing down the wholesale apple prices sharply,” he added.

Grabbling with higher input prices into orchard farming, especially the increased fertilizer costs, pesticides, packaging costs and increasing labour wages, Pal Singh Jaret, a fruit grower from Kotgarh said, “at such price, surviving on a single fruit crop is un remunerative for this was the price an apple box was fetching seven years ago.”

Sunder Jisthu, another orchard owner held that traders by buying at high rates in the early market create an artificial demand each year, leading to an increase in supply and a subsequent crash.

With HPMC, a state owned fruit processing and packaging company, having set up world class computerized packaging lines at three places, a skill gap in operating these units is costing the farmers dear.

These lines were only recently inaugurated by chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and horticulture minister Narinder Bragta.

Ajeet, a farmer who packaged his fruit at Jarol-Tikkar said, “I made a big mistake by packaging my fruit at this line which was imported from Holland for not doubt that it is very hi-tech but after brushing and washing the fruit, there was no wax available to provide the finishing polish to the marketable fruit.”

Local markets at Narkanda, Rohru, Kullu, Kharapattar, Solan has reported a drop in fresh supplies reaching the market.

Till recent years bulk of the fruit used to be sold at Delhi’s Azadpur market, followed by Chandigarh market but even with limited infrastructure traders are reaching local markets to reduce the number of middle men involved in the fruit trade.

The corporate houses of ITC and Adani, the cooperative Mother Dairy and an Indian Railways subsidiary Container Corporation of India (CCI) over the last few years have resorted to buying quality fruit at farm gates in the apple belt.

After have had record crop of 4.46 crore boxes in 2010, production dropped to a low of 1.3 crore boxes in 2011. Crop estimates put out by the horticulture department expect to better last year’s production but a weak monsoon in the early season has left an impact on the years productivity.

Photo by Ravinder Makhaik

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