Kinnow growers are reeling from a production glut leading to a crash in price realisations. This is something Punjab’s ‘king fruit’ is naturally prone to, given the short period (mid-December to February-end) during which it is harvested. Dubi Raber, a citrus cultivation expert who had worked with Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, believes the solution lies in farmers producing a variety of citrus fruits, which can help prolong the harvesting season. Such ‘diversification within citrus fruits’ is what the Indo-Israeli Centre of Excellence for Fruits (Citrus) at village Khanaura in Hoshiarpur district is aiming at. Set up in an area of 27 acres, it has a 1,000 square-metre polyhouse and net houses on another 6,000 square metres for raising the nurseries of citrus plants imported from Israel.
Excerpts from an interview with Dubi Raber by ANJU AGNIHOTRI CHABA:
What is the objective of this new centre?
The Punjab farmer today grows a single citrus crop – kinnow – due to which he has a limited harvesting period. Our centre is working on providing an extended period of at least six months for harvesting of citrus crops. This can happen if the farmer dedicates the area in his orchard to cultivate a wider range of citrus crops maturing at different times. We are providing 15-20 citrus varieties for diversification. These include other Mandarin group fruits (Daisy, Murcott, Michal, Pearl Tangelo, Fremont and Fairchild), sweet oranges (including Jaffa or Shamouti oranges that is harvested in August, Mosambi in September-October, Hamlin in November, Blood Red in January and Malta in February), grapefruit (Sweetie, Star Ruby, Marsh Seedless, Redblush Chakotra and Pomelo, which are harvested from mid-January to March) and lemons/limes (Baramasi and Kagzi).
What will Israel’s role be?
Most of these varieties being tried out in this centre have been imported from Israel. We are growing them here in mother plant units in climate-controlled net houses, from where they will be shifted to the nursery. The pest and disease-free saplings raised there can, then, be taken for planting in open orchards. At this Indo-Israeli centre, which was started around a year back, we are also providing all the required technical knowhow to grow these varieties in Punjab’s climate.
But can these imported Israeli varieties be easily cultivated in Punjab?
It is a big challenge, no doubt, but the plants that we have introduced are all currently doing well at the centre. We have to observe these for the next few years, till they are actually prepared for surviving in the open orchards of farmers. In Israeli, maximum temperatures do not rise beyond 40 degrees Celsius, whereas here in Hoshiarpur, they go up to 44-45 degrees. We have made small changes to the irrigation and fertiliser application schedules to adjust to the cultivation and climatic requirements of Punjab.
How can farmers be motivated towards planting the imported citrus varieties?
The objective of setting up this centre is to impart knowledge about good citrus cultivation practices. These extend to use of micro-irrigation system for nurseries and fields, application of the right doses of fertilisers through ‘fertigation’, weed and canopy management, and post-harvest management techniques. We are also emphasising new farm machinery and use of plastic culture, apart from conducting regular training programmes, both on- and off-campus, for scientists who will disseminate the knowledge so gained to the farmers. Besides, we will be bringing farmers to enable them to see what we are doing here.
Our ultimate objective is to help Punjab farmers, by making citrus fruit cultivation more lucrative through a longer harvesting period that will also contribute to price stability. Consumers, too, will be able to savour a wider range of citrus fruits that were hitherto unavailable from Punjab.