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Farmers here fear low fruit output as precipitation declines

Despite the early flowering for the fruit crops in Kashmir, the lack of precipitation has led to the falling of flowers, thereby impacting fruit production. According to data from the meteorological department, there was 70-80 per cent deficiency of normal precipitation in Kashmir between March 1 and April 21 this year. Rising temperatures would have been beneficial for the fruit growers if there was adequate irrigation in the orchards. Dry conditions are also causing an influx of pests leading to many diseases, eventually damaging the trees and affecting the production.

In the second week of March, Ghulam Rasool Mir, a 70-year-old farmer of Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal District expected a bumper crop this season. With temperatures rising earlier than usual, he witnessed huge flowers for fruits in his garden. However, within two weeks, most flowers started fading and many apple trees had withered.

Mir says he believes that the event is due to dry weather conditions that prevailed in Kashmir in March and in the first two weeks of April. “There was a large flowering for fruits in this season due to an early rise in temperature. However, these flowers turned dry within two weeks and almost 50 percent have either been damaged or fallen down mostly due to dry weather,” said a worried Mir.

Mir was expecting to earn Rs 700000 from the apple crop this year, on his one hectare of land. “I believe we won’t earn more than Rs 400000 now. Dry weather has already caused damage to our crops. In March and April, there was a substantial requirement of water for our orchards. Even if we receive rain in the coming days, the dryness has already caused damage,” he told Mongabay-India.

According to figures from Meteorological Department, there has been 70-80 per cent deficiency of precipitation between March 1 and April 21 this year, in Kashmir. During the 50 days, Kashmir received only 43 mm precipitation against an average normal precipitation of 209 mm.

Deputy director, Meteorological Department Kashmir, Mukhtar Ahmad, said there has been a huge deficiency of precipitation in Kashmir amid hot weather this season. He cites varied reasons for less precipitation in this season. “There were small western disturbances which did not hit the exact place due to lack of moisture in the air resulting in Kashmir receiving very less precipitation,” he said.

Horticulture in Kashmir is mainly dependent on rains during March and April. “There was early flowering this season. But due to lack of precipitation, the flowers started falling and are likely to impact the fruit production of the valley,” Ahmad said.

Horticulture is the mainstay of Kashmir’s economy with 700,000 families directly or indirectly associated with the sector. Horticulture contributes over eight percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Jammu and Kashmir. More than 338000 hectares of land is under the fruit cultivation in the valley, of which 162000 hectares is dedicated for apple cultivation.

Like Mir, there are thousands of farmers who are worried about the lack of precipitation this year. With limited sources of irrigation, orchard fields in Kashmir are mainly dependent on precipitation to water the trees. Mohammad Subhan, an apple farmer from North Kashmir’s Sopore, said over 30 per cent of apple trees in his orchard have withered due to dry temperatures and influx of pests.

“We are completely relying on natural precipitation. As there has been very little downpour in March and April, it will have a huge impact on the production,” Subhan said. He added that above normal temperatures in March have led to early sprouting of apples and other fruits. “Then in the second week of April, there was a sudden dip in temperature. This untimely weather condition may hit the production of various crops this year.”

In March this year, Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, recorded a maximum of 20.7 degree Celsius which was the warmest since 2004. While the minimum temperatures stood at 6.7 degree Celsius, which was the highest ever in 131 years. Some experts attribute the untimely weather conditions to global warming.

Sensing trouble, the Horticulture Department in the second week of April also issued an advisory to help the growers. Orchardists were advised to immediately irrigate their orchards from wherever the irrigation facility was available. “Irrigation should be applied preferably in cooler parts of the day like morning or evening,” said the advisory.

Akhtar H. Malik, junior scientist at Department of Botany University of Kashmir, said that there was even an overlapping flowering of fruit species this year. “Earlier, the flowering would start with fruit species such as almonds followed by peach, pear, cherry, plum and then apple. But, flowers came out together in all species early this year. It was expected to be a good season for crops. But low precipitation led to withering of flowers. The low precipitation will also impact crops as fruit production is directly dependent on flower formation,” he explained to Mongabay-India.

Omar Ahmad, a researcher at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology Kashmir (SKUAST-K), said rising temperature coupled with dry weather conditions have an adverse effect on the horticulture produce. “Rising temperatures would have been beneficial if there was adequate irrigation in orchards. Dry conditions are also causing an influx of pests leading to many diseases eventually damaging the trees and hitting the produce,” he said.

However, Director General Horticulture Department Jammu and Kashmir Ajaz Ahmad Bhat asks growers not to worry. “We hope there will be a good amount of precipitation in the coming days and farmers will have good crops. Withering of trees may be that farmers have not done proper pollination,” Bhat added.

(Courtesy: Mongabay India)

November 2022