Apple cultivation in south India a game-changer: Expert

Apple cultivation, long associated with the Himalayan foothills, is headed south to the tropics in an experiment that, if successful, could see the country’s output jump several-fold.

The project to grow “low-chilling variety of apples” in southern India is revolutionary, says horticulture scientist Chiranjit Parmar, with production per hectare expected to be in the range of 65 tonnes — dramatically higher than in states like Himachal Pradesh.

“If the project succeeds in the tropics, which it almost has, it will be a revolution in the apple production in India,” Parmar, who is based in Mandi town of Himachal Pradesh, said.

He said the south Indian apple orchards — primarily in Karnataka — could produce 10 times more per hectare than Himachal Pradesh. This means the country’s apple production will shoot up exponentially.

The plantation in the south is in the nascent stage and commercial cultivation is yet to start. It started bearing fruit in less than two years, against the six-seven years it normally takes in the hills.

It is estimated that over 8,000 apple trees have been planted since 2011 in and around Karnataka.

Parmar, a former horticulture expert of the Solan-based Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, experimented with the growing of apple trees in tropical areas after seeing apple plantations in tropical Indonesia.

According to him, the reason for the speedy growth of apple saplings in the tropical region is the absence of the plant’s dormant phase — a natural phenomenon which helps it resist extreme cold.

“The apple plantation sees a huge success in those regions which do not experience winter at all and where the minimum temperature never falls below 12 degrees Celsius and the summer is also not harsh,” he said.

“Now apple plants are sent every year not only to Karnataka but also to the adjoining states,” Parmar said. A majority of saplings have been supplied from the horticulture university’s nursery at Bajaura in Kullu.

Grower Gangadhar Murthy of Tumkur, who planted apple sapplings in 2013, said his plantation was quite successful, along with coconuts. He’s now eyeing a commercial cultivation of apples.

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