This is in response to the recent reports by Kashmir Reader Correspondent Mr Raashid Hassan titled “High density apples fetch excellent returns this year” and “Success of high density apple raises demand for similar schemes”. In Kashmir, high-density apple farming no doubt is gaining momentum and many success stories are emerging from it. One is from KVK Kulgam, where a demonstration of high-density apple farming was established in year 2017 on an area of 3.5 kanals. Just one year after the planting, the fruit started earning revenue. This year also returns were more than double compared to the conventional apple farming, and that just after three years of planting.
This clearly indicates the potential of modern methods in enhancing farmers’ income and in easing farm distress, especially in the backdrop of the national agenda of doubling farmers’ income. But the question remains if it is really going to sustain in the future. We need to understand what the challenges are and what we should focus on. As indicated in Mr Hassan’s report, only 0.07% area of valley’s horticultural land is currently occupied by high-density apple. We are in a nascent phase and there is an enormous gap between potential and current production. Area expansion under High Density Apple (HDP) Orchards will surely help in bridging this gap. At present, good-quality HDP apple is less in quantity and A-grade apple production is low overall due to fruit being affected by scab, hail and drought at some places under humid conditions. All these factors together are resulting in higher demand for quality apple and thus rates may be comparatively higher this year. In future we are expecting enormous production through area expansion under HDP. Again, handling huge quantity of apple will be a challenge and that needs policy support in terms of infrastructure.
Sufficient storage facility, fruit processing units, advanced grading and packing facilities, relevant transportation facility and market linkage are required. There are some other serious issues, especially maintenance of quality standards to compete at global level, a suitable import and export policy, commissioning agents, etc. What we have been observing over the years not only in apple but in other commodities throughout the country is that farmers get very less share of the price which consumers pay for the produce. This is the reason that even higher production at times has not benefited farmers. So, processing and value addition along with regulating markets is equally important. The thrust of the government on formation of Farmer Producer Companies/ organisations is a good initiative which may prove helpful in the dissemination of technology and reduction of risks at various levels of farming, including marketing.
We need trained human resource for technology dissemination and for that SKUAST-Kashmir is well equipped in terms of infrastructure and well-qualified scientific and field staff. Even at district level, KVKs are there to cater to district needs. Apple farming in the valley is a major consumer of agrochemicals. Costs incurred on the procurement of these chemicals, especially pesticides, are very high compared to other components of cost of cultivation. This is not only having direct impact on economics but is also a cause of concern for soil health, environment, and animal health – all of which affects human health.
Thus, a lot of research and extension work is to be done to come up with technologies that meet the objective of enhancing productivity without harming ecology and environment. There is urgent need to sensitise our farming community at the village level to integrated organic and biological sources of nutrient with chemical fertilisers. The ‘soil health card’ scheme can play a vital role in this regard. One thing that we must make our farmers understand is that following all components of crop management are essential, as it is seen in the field that they are more inclined to agrochemicals for crop nutrition and pest control and most of the times ignore other components of farming like orchard sanitation, proper drainage, use of well-decomposed organic sources of nutrients, canopy management, and so on.
More importantly, it must be understood that some locations may be fit for other crops but not for apple farming, so we have to be very careful in selecting sites to make this profitable. This especially needs attention of the agencies when people are shifting to apple farming in non-traditional areas. Here we need to generate scientific data with regard to choice of crop, variety, and crop management practices because of the variation in edaphic and microclimatic conditions. Situation and location-specific apple based integrated farming system (IFS) needs to be adopted. Adding a few suitable and compatible components in the existing farming systems will help in reducing risks, in recycling farm resources, and in generating more employment.
We must also focus on other fruit crops to strike a balance. Classifying areas based on suitability for different crops (niche area) is need of the hour. These are some of the areas which I think we need to work on to sustain the production, quality, and above all, famers’ income. It finally is the income which matters and that must increase to make farming profitable and this will help in retaining future generations in farming.
Note: The views expressed are personal and any feedback in this regard will be highly appreciated.
—The writer is Sr Scientist & Head, KVK-Kulgam, SKUAST-Kashmir. [email protected]