Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir fruit farmers are worried about the erratic weather during the onset of summer impacting their crops, including apples. 

Cherry production has already decreased due to incessant thundershowers and strong winds. “The cherries cracked and insects and pests invaded them,” Raja, a cherry farmer from Srinagar outskirts, told Newsclick

Excessive rains also damaged strawberries. The moisture damaged early crops, leading to significant losses. “Production decreased significantly as the buds could not grow. They have become more susceptible to diseases due to the cold. The same thing happened to apples,” he added. 

Kashmir Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association president Bashir Ahmad Bashir said they had hoped for a bumper crop after the initial good bloom. 

“We were hoping for good produce this year, but the bad weather caused scab (a common fungal disease that blotches fruits like apples and pears). Cherry production was affected by 75% and apple produce will also be affected by 30%-40%,” Bashir told Newsclick

Mohammad Amin Bhat, from the Directorate of Horticulture, Kashmir, however, said that the rainfall and lower temperature would not impact the overall fruit production but would certainly affect the quality.

“Farmers did not get enough time for spraying insecticides, which led to diseases like scab. Fruit development was also affected due to lower temperature,” he said. The impact on high-density apple plantations would be mitigated by saving them from hailstorms. 

High-density apple plantations constitute less than 10% of the orchards, spread over 1.70 lakh hectares. 

Paddy nursery owners are also worried as seeds could not grow due to cold weather, excessive rain and cloudy skies. 

Agriculture director Chowdhary Mohaad Iqbal, however, is optimistic about the agricultural produce only if the weather is favourable in the coming weeks. “Hailstorms are the only concern. If they don’t occur in the coming weeks, produce will be good,” he told Newsclick

Last week, Iqbal had directed officials to assess the damage caused to vegetables, paddy nurseries and mustard after a hailstorm hit several north Kashmir areas, including Baramulla and Kupwara districts. Several farmers had informed the department that their crops were severely damaged. 

More than seven lakh families in J&K directly or indirectly depend on apple production. Agriculture is the backbone of the region’s economy with the annual income generated by fruits at around Rs 10,000 crore. 

Fruit growers have been grappling with political turmoil, climate change and competition from unregulated fruit imports from Iran. 

Fruit growers, traders, businessmen and politicians have warned of problems like climate change and progress made at the cost of the environment. 

CPI(M) leader Mohamad Yousuf Tarigami expressed severe concern about the “ecological devastation” of J&K on World Environment Day on Monday and called for steps to restore the region’s ecology. 

“This fragile ecosystem, renowned for its breath-taking landscapes, rich biodiversity and cultural heritage, is now under grave threat due to the administration’s apathy,” Tarigami said. 

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Anees Zargar