By Bisma Ashraf Zargar
Horticulture occupies a very important position in the predominantly agricultural economy of western Himalaya. Among all the fruits grown in the Kashmir, apples are most widely planted and constitute commercially the most important fruit crop. Against this backdrop, a close look at the economics of apple cultivation becomes highly relevant to determine the costs, and related themes pertaining to the apple industry. In terms of both area and production, apple is a very beneficial fruit crop. Apple is an extremely important source of nutritive diet; it provides a major source of income and employment as well. It’s production in Jammu and Kashmir and its marketing all over India as well export promotion to other countries by several government initiated programs and policies like price policy -credit policy, supply of packing boxes, quality control are all well recognized but their impact positive or negative- remains a topic of considerable controversy.
Jammu and Kashmir has 35.92 percent and 58 percent of country total area. About 50% of apple production comes from south Kashmir from places like Anantnag, Pulwama, Sopore, Shopain and Kulgam.
The state has the largest potential for production of quality temperate horticulture crops. It has created niche production of apple, pear, cherry and dry fruits. Among temperate fruits, apple ranks in the first position in terms of production and productivity. The annual production of apple in the state is about 9.09 lack tone at an average yield of 10.09 tons per hectare. However, the production and productivity of apple crop has been fluctuating during last two decades; this is usually due to drought or some other climatic conditions.
In spite of this, apple production has increased from just 6000 metric tons in 1950-51 to more than 18 lack tone in 2010-11; productivity is much higher than national level of 6.86 Mt/Ha and also compares well with the world average of 10.82 ton/ha or china (9.93 ton/ha) which is world’s largest producer of apples.
Apple production can, however, be further increased by increasing the area under cultivation and using the newly developed techniques of high density.
In a high density orchard, near full production can be achieved within four years, less space will be required, a larger variety of fruit may be planted and the training and pruning is quite simple.. Planting dwarf apple trees and adopting practices such as minimal pruning and simplified training is a key step towards labor efficiency. Older training systems that were designed to facilitate mechanization, such as the Tatura trellis, were developed to facilitate shake-and-catch harvest, but this method was abandoned by engineers for use on large-fruited species such as apple and peach because it results in unacceptable levels of bruising. Experts suggest G.41, (aka Geneva 41), G.11, G.935, M.9 (aka Malling 9), M.9T337, or Bud.9 (aka Budagovsky 9) as extremely dwarfing rootstocks so choosing one of these ultra-dwarfing rootstocks means it’s going to be mandatory for you to keep your trees completely weeded, mulched, and watered at all times.
Since Apple trees need to be propagated on either M.9 or B.9 rootstocks as fully dwarfing rootstocks and these trees should be pruned minimally when planted. A support system is necessary since trees propagated on dwarfing rootstocks will not stand up without support. Several approaches can be taken to provide adequate tree support. Growth of trees is controlled primarily by bending side branches to the horizontal and securing them at that angle. This slows the growth of the trees and makes them much more productive.
Using this system, trees can be planted as close as 4 to 5 feet. Tree spacing in commercial orchards using this system is frequently 3 feet between trees. Trees should be planted so that at least 4 to 6 inches of the upper portion of the rootstock is above ground level. Identification of the rootstock is generally quite easy since the scion cultivar often attaches to the rootstock at an angle about 12 inches from the bottom of the tree. The tree should be tied initially to the post and as the tree grows. New growth should also be secured to the post. No pruning should be done at planting time unless a side branch is larger than half the diameter of the trunk of the tree, in which case it should be removed. The tree can be fertilized once or twice with high nitrogen liquid fertilizer starting about three weeks after planting.
Supply of water should be available for the entire growing season to assure continuous and adequate supply of moisture. A soaker hose running along the base of these trees is a simple and effective way to provide moisture. A critical component of this system is minimal pruning. Tree vigor should be kept in check by tying down limbs and rapidly growing shoots. This can be accomplished by tying limbs down in a horizontal position using tape, rubber bands, weights or similar material.
The goal of this system is to develop a tree with many small branches that are horizontal to the main trunk of the tree. These are the most productive branches on a tree. Continue to remove any large branches (generally larger than 3/4 inch in diameter) using the previously described bevel cut. Continue to pinch shoots when they reach 3 to 4 inches in length and bend down vigorous and upright branches and to thin fruit so that they are spread no closer than 6 to 8 inches. It is critically important that when the trees reaches the top of the training post that their top should not be pruned or cut in any way.
Any pruning will make the top of the tree vigorous and unproductive thus jeopardize the balance between fruit production and vegetative growth. The top should be allowed to flower, fruit and bend over and it should be cut only when the shoots there are at a horizontal or lower. As the trees get older, many of the small branches that were bent to the horizontal will fruit and ultimately become unproductive. These branches can then be removed or cut back to a lateral branch extending in a horizontal direction.
The success of this system is based upon several important horticultural principals. Bending shoots to the horizontal position rather than cutting will reduce vigor in limbs and make them more productive. Removal of large limbs with a bevel cut does not stimulate the growth of a tree. Fruit production in the tops of trees is one of the best ways to control growth in the tops of trees. In order to be economically productive, the orchard needs to achieve high light interception without creating dense areas in the canopy. Over time, horticulturists found that when an orchard system is entirely within the reach of a person on the ground one of two bad things happens. Either a) the canopy is productive but too dense, causing a loss of fruit quality, or b) the canopy is too small, causing loss of yield. The solution has been to increase canopy volume without condensing the canopy by growing the tree taller, while keeping it narrow and orienting the rows in a north-south direction wherever possible to minimize cross-row shading.
The successful management of apple trees in any high-density planting system depends on maintaining a balance between vegetative growth and fruiting. If vigor is too low, excessive fruiting results, fruit size declines, biennial bearing increases and trees fail to fill their allotted space soon enough to make the orchard profitable. If vegetative vigor is excessive then flowering and fruiting are reduced and containment of the tree to the allotted space becomes problematic. The successful balance of vegetative vigor and fruiting results in ‘calm’ trees that produce heavy annual crops and require only a light annual pruning. Pruning and crop load management are the primary management tools along with fertilization and irrigation that are used to achieve a balance between vegetative growth and cropping throughout the orchards life. These management variables are affected by planting density, tree quality and tree training strategies.
Our proximity to the world’s most important fruit market (the U.S. east coast) is a growing competitive advantage for our industry, not only in transportation costs, but also due to growing consumer preference for locally-grown produce. The future for our fruit industry seems bright, except for the growing cost and scarcity of farm labor. The aim of the government should be t develop growing systems and technologies that will allow greater mechanization and labor efficiency in the short term, and fully automated systems in the future. In a nutshell, unless you’re willing to commit time every month to playing with your trees, you might be better off trying something else.
The author has completed her Msc in Food Technology from the IUST. She can be reached at: [email protected]