Looking at his apple orchard in Rasheli village near Theog, Jagdish Chand (42) estimated the total crop this season to be not more than 6-7 boxes (a box contains around 25 kgs).
“Even the apples are socially distant this year – a few in number and far apart from each other,” remarked Chand. Last year, his orchard produced around 40 boxes of the Royal Delicious variety.
But this year, two severe hailstorms in March-April destroyed most of his crop during its flowering stage, he recounted. He does not plan to sell the meagre crop this year, as it will be needed for the consumption of his own family and relatives.
Across the valley, Mohan Lal, 49, from Barelti village has a similar tale to tell. Last year, he harvested 150 boxes (around 3,750 kg) of apples in his orchard, while this year, it’s expected to be around 10-12 boxes — less than 10 per cent of last year’s produce. There was enough snowfall required for the fruit’s chilling requirements, but the weather was unusually cold during the fruit’s flowering stage in March-April, he said.
According to a report by the meteorological centre at Shimla, the daily maximum temperatures in the state this year were below normal during most days from March to May (summer season) due to ten significant spells of rain and snow. “Thunderstorms accompanied with hail and gusty winds were observed at many stations this season,” said the report, adding that the total precipitation during the period was the second-highest in the last 17 years.
On the other hand, rainfall during July in Shimla district remained 11 per cent below normal. Theog MLA Rakesh Singha said that due to insufficient rains this monsoon, the size of the apple crop has not attained its desired size.
“The produce is low this year but fortunately apples in this area have been spared the scab disease, which has afflicted the crop in some other parts of upper Shimla such as Kotgarh,” said Singha.
He added that shortage of manpower is a major challenge before the orchard owners this season. Seasonal labourers from Nepal have not arrived in the state this year amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Area residents said that some of the labourers who had stayed back during the winter and even during the lockdown rushed back home during the tension between the governments of India and Nepal when the latter revised its map in May.
Back in Rasheli, Jagdish has planted some maize, peas and cauliflower on his land as alternative crops, and hopes they are spared by wild animals. He said that he supplements his income by doing wage labour in case his crops fail.
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