Apple Orchards Dying As Hills Get Warmer

Dec 14th, 2013 | By | Category: Agriculture, Climatic Changes in Himalayas, Ecosystem Functions, News, Vulnerability

Times News Network: With apple trees failing to get required chill hours during winters and frequency of snowfall decreased over the years, many fatal diseases have gripped orchards in Kullu district, which has impacted annual apple production in the region.

Total area under apple cultivation in Kullu district is 24,000 hectares and nearly 85% of the total apple plants are of “royal delicious” variety, which requires at least 1,600 chill hours in winter months to bloom. The required chilling hours not only result in bumper crop but also control many diseases in plants. With winter season shrinking every year and frequency of snowfall also decreased, apple trees are not getting the required chill hours in winters. As a result, attack of fungal diseases is causing uneven apple production and even drying of trees.

This year too, the overall night temperature in Kullu district is still above the freezing point and apple plants are yet to get any chill hours so far. Majority of apple varieties here need at least 66 days to complete required chill hours. According to horticulture deputy director B C Rana, area under apple cultivation in Kullu is increasing by one hectare every year, but simultaneously fast replacement of dead trees has also become important as climate change is proving fatal for trees. “Now we are growing imported French and American varieties like super chief, scarlet spur, scarlet spur 2 and red chief, which are more resistant to diseases,” he said.

Uncertainty of snowfall is the main enemy of apple orchards. Now, December, which used to be the main winter month, is mostly going dry without rain and snowfall. Canker, which develops in plants due to environmental factors, has emerged as one of the most fatal diseases in apple orchards, spreads fast from tree to tree and eventually kills the whole orchard. Apart from care, extreme cold condition is best panacea for control of canker and many other diseases.

Due to gradual rise in temperature, more than 600 hectares of land in lower Kullu, which earlier was covered by apple orchards, is now under pomegranate plants. Rana further added that given the fact that most of the apple orchards have grown old or are damaged by diseases, the government has launched an apple rejuvenation project to replace old trees with new saplings. “We have Rs 3.42 crore funds to be utilized under this scheme. We are offering 50% subsidy to remove old trees and prepare land for new plants. An aid of Rs 90 per plant (up to 500 plants) is also being given to orchardists to rejuvenate their orchards.”

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