Cherry blossoms in Kashmir valley, but growers are not smiling

After a good harvest last year, cherry growers in Kashmir are staring at losses due to unseasonal changes in the weather.

Despite the cherry crop bloom, the growers are worried that the production in the state could decline by 30% this season, especially due to frequent hailstorms in the regions where cherry is grown in abundance.

With nearly 2,713 hectares of land are under cherry cultivation in Jammu and Kashmir, the state accounts for a significant part of the country’s cherry production. Besides Tangmarg and Lar in north Kashmir, cherry is also grown in some parts of Srinagar; Baramulla and Shopian districts in south Kashmir.

The state had witnessed a bumper crop in 2018, which fetched them good revenue. Officials in the horticulture department said the production had reached around 11,289 and 11,789 metric tonnes in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The cherry harvesting season begins from mid-May and lasts up to the first week of July. Many parts of the Valley were hit by hailstorms in May.

Horticulture department deputy director Manzoor Ahmad Dar said long spell of cold and frequent hailstorms this year had damaged cherry crop in Kashmir. “We took precautions to minimise the losses and educated cherry growers on steps to save their yield,” he said. Kashmir produces four varieties of cherry — Double, Makhmali, Mishri and Italy. The demand for cherries comes mostly from outside the state, with almost 90% of the exports headed to different parts of the country, especially metropolitan cities. Mishri and Makhmali varieties are highly sought after due to their taste and natural colour, though some growers use chemicals for early ripening.

Nazir Ahmad Khan, who owns a kiosk at Asia’s second largest fruit market at Sopore, said the arrival of different varieties of cherry had already begun. “We have been told by growers that the production this time is less, especially in Baramulla and some areas of Srinagar, which witnessed heavy hailstorm couple of times in the past few months,” he said.

Khan, who also owns several apple and cherry orchards in Handwara area of north Kashmir, said the bloom was good but rain and hailstorm damaged cherry crop at many places. “Last year, we had a bumper crop and this year the production could go down by more than 25 to 30%,” he said.

Bashir Ahmad Bashir, president, Fruit Growers Association, Parimpora, said, “Cherry is the first cash crop for the growers of the Valley and many consider its yield as good omen for the fruit season. This year, the cherry arrival is already delayed due to the uncertain climate. We hope the yield will not decline this year as hundreds of growers are dependent on cherry. Last year also the rates were low due to good harvest.” He said 80-90% yield was being exported to various parts of country. “Already five to six trucks are being dispatched daily to different markets across the country, especially Mumbai, where cherry is in good demand,” he said.

He said a large share of cherries produced here is bought by canners. “Apart from fewer yields this year, the air freight has also increased from ₹24 to 34 per box. With the highway also not in good shape, the prospects of good earning appear bleak,” he added.

First Published: May 31, 2019 12:12 IST

Updated: May 31, 2019 — 12:11 pm