The contribution of horticulture, especially apple farming, in the economy of Jammu & Kashmir is enormous and there has been consistent increase in the area under apple cultivation over the past few decades. At present, about 1.5 lakh hectare area is under apple with a production of about 20 lakh metric tonnes (MTs) in the valley. Horticulture is also a major employer of people, involving more than seven lakh families which is roughly around 33 lakh population. The interest in apple farming is gaining momentum day by day and farmers are now adopting improved practices of farming, which is good to see in the field. But still, a huge number adhere to the traditional practices. With a changing global scenario particularly in terms of climate and quality standards of farm produce, we must be ready to adapt and change our mindset towards farming. It is really important to understand that over the years the climate has drifted to erratic in our region. Abnormal weather parameters are no more an exception but rather the routine. Ignoring even a single component of farming means inviting trouble.
When we talk of apple farming there are many components like rootstocks, varieties suitable for a given location, orchard sanitation, proper canopy management (training and pruning), soil test-based nutrient management, water management in terms of irrigation/ water conservation and drainage, integrated disease and pest management, pollination management, fruit thinning, and so on. Considering all these components together will definitely help in improving the farm produce both in terms of yield and quality, and will also help in reducing the costs of cultivation and improving net returns per unit area. During the current winter season famers have to focus on three important field operations in their orchards. First, priority must be orchard sanitation as cleaning of orchards has enormous significance in reducing disease, especially apple scab, a very serious disease which has badly affected this year’s crop across the valley.
Then we have to focus on canopy management. Canopy management has its impact on incidence of diseases and pests, harvesting of solar radiations, aeration within the canopy, and most importantly, on volume of pesticides and fungicides used for spray, which in turn has its impact on yield, quality and economics of farming. Besides, canopy management also has a great role in reducing the damage to trees due to snowfall, as has been observed during field visits conducted during the past few years. To have a better understanding of canopy management, famers must contact experts from the department of Horticulture and the Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) in respective districts, and participate in the training programmes organised by them.
This is also the time to go for soil sampling and soil testing for fertiliser scheduling. Indiscriminate use of fertilisers has caused a nutrient imbalance which has very adverse effect on crop growth and development. Knowing the soil fertility status and soil reaction is therefore crucial for sustaining higher and quality yields. Earlier we were having very few laboratories but nowadays we have soil testing facility in almost all districts at the department of agriculture and the KVKs. The time for following flat recommendations is over now and we can get fertiliser schedule as per the status of orchard soil by getting it tested in the laboratories. Over years of observations and experience, scientists at KVK Kulgam have found that soil test-based fertiliser application is not only lessening load of chemicals but also helping in reducing cost of cultivation, besides improving crop production and quality.
Rodent management and proper drainage are other aspects to be taken care of. Farmers are therefore requested to contact the KVKs in each district that are working under Directorate of Extension SKUAST-Kashmir for detailed instructions and guidance. For any query, suggestions and feedback, readers should feel free to contact us.
—The writer is Sr Scientist & Head, KVK-Kulgam, SKUAST-Kashmir. [email protected]