Shimla, June 15 : A good, sweet cherry crop -- largely organic as less pesticides are used in its cultivation -- has brought cheer to its growers in Himachal Pradesh, with production expected to be over 520 tonnes this season, up from 225 tonnes last year.
The cherries are highly remunerative too compared to stone fruits, currently fetching a price of Rs 150 to Rs 200 per kg in state markets and over Rs 250 in Chandigarh and New Delhi.
Growers, however, rue that the rates are comparatively less this season compared to last year owing to a glut-like situation.
Its harvest is at its peak and the fruit packed in small cartons is heading to markets in Chandigarh, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan, say traders.
Horticulture Department Director M.L. Dhiman told IANS on Saturday that the total yield of cherries is good this year in the state.
"Last year, the production was bad owing to unfavourable weather. The growers are getting good prices, despite the crop being plentiful," he said.
This was the highest production after 2015-16, when the total production of cherries was 617 tonnes, Dhiman added.
The higher reaches of Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Chamba and Kinnaur, at altitudes of 6,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level, are ideal for cherry cultivation. Shimla district alone accounts for more than 90 per cent of the state's total production.
Trade representatives said the imported cherry varieties like 'deuro nera', 'stella', 'merchant' and 'celsius', which have a longer shelf life, would get good demand.
The hub of cherry cultivation is Narkanda, Kotgarh, Baagi, Matiana, Kumarsain and Thanedhar in Shimla district.
Nearly 20,000 marginal farmers are involved in cherry cultivation and grow over 20 varieties on over 500 hectares of areas in the state.
The cultivation of cherries has emerged as an alternative in the apple growing areas of the state and is fetching fairly high prices compared to other fruit crops.
Traders say local varieties have been retailing at Rs 100 to Rs 150 per kg in Shimla depending upon the quality, while imported varieties like 'merchant' and 'stella' command Rs 200-250 per kg.
The shelf-life of normal cherry varieties ranges from two to three days, while the top varieties last up to six days.
Bumper production of cherries in the state was recorded in 2013-14 with the production of 1,183 tonnes.
"The fruit is fetching a price of Rs 200 to Rs 250 per kg in Delhi's Azadpur wholesale fruit market these days, while it was between Rs 500 and Rs 600 last year," Ranjeet Mehta, a prominent cherry grower of Kotgarh, told IANS.
The growers initially got good prices but as the harvesting picked up, there was almost a glut-like situation in the market. Subsequently, the prices tumbled massively, he said.
"Last year the production was less and the fruit's prices were handsome. This time the crop yield is good after a long time, but earnings are not plentiful," Mehta added.
Cherry harvesting will continue till July 15.
Horticulture experts say cherry cultivation is picking up in the state due to the higher value it fetched in the market than apples.
Besides cherries, Himachal Pradesh -- famous as country's fruit bowl -- produces major commercial crops include apples, kiwis, strawberries, pears, peaches, apricots, almonds and plums. Apples alone constitute about 89 per cent of the total fruit production.
The state's fruit industry is worth about Rs 3,500 crore a year.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)
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