The essence of effective orchard management lies in the judicious execution of timely interventions.
Known for its beautiful landscape and temperate climate, the Kashmir region provides favourable conditions for apple cultivation. The apple industry holds a significant position in the regional economy. With a wide range of apple varieties being cultivated in the valley now, the past few years have seen a rise in the adoption of high-density apple varieties. The apples produced are not only consumed locally but are also in demand internationally. However, weather uncertainties, lack of awareness, faulty practices and fast-changing global dynamics make it imperative that we work on timely intervention and adoption of technologies for the vitality of our horticulture sector.
The quality of harvested produce from a particular region not only influences consumer choices at one time but also has a profound effect on its demand and market value in the coming years. Consumer satisfaction would mean repeat purchases, thus creating more demand. In the case of apples, good colour, crispiness, and a burst of flavour are what make them appealing and create a strong demand. Conversely, poor quality fruits leave customers dissatisfied, thus eroding the market share and leading to price fall.
The weather patterns this year have been a mixed bag for orchardists, with both pests and diseases finding favourable circumstances. The beginning of the apple season witnessed a heavy and prolonged downpour which resulted in the spread of scab. Simultaneously, abnormally low temperatures hampered efficient fertilizer uptake, limiting the overall development of the trees. Summer’s searing heat increased pest-related issues, most notably an increase in aphid infestations.
The scorching heat this season contributed to decreased soil moisture levels, further aggravated by a common misconception among local farmers that irrigating their orchards during dry periods would prove detrimental to tree health. This negligence led to a sluggish nutrient absorption, evident through lenticel damage and the yellowing of leaves. While lenticel damage may not significantly influence fruit quality, its mitigation is within reach through judicious irrigation practices and timely application of calcium sprays.
During a visit to Pulwama a few months ago, a concerning site caught my attention. The orchard, despite being 3 years old, looked very weak and overburdened with visibly deformed and undersized fruit. The farmer recalled how the supplier who established the orchard had promised him that this specific variety did not require any chemical intervention and was pest and disease-resistant. However, the repercussions of such a misguided venture weigh heavily on both ethical and market considerations. Manipulating farmers’ decisions merely for commercial gain not only constitutes an ethical lapse but also casts a shadow on the market dynamics.
I have frequently observed instances where farmers, despite the timely application of chemicals, continue to experience pest and disease attacks. The dosage significantly influences the efficacy of these chemicals—the quantity in which they are applied. If the chemical is administered in amounts below the recommended level, it can lead to the development of resistance within the pest population, and if applied in higher concentrations, it poses a potential risk of inducing phytotoxicity. Moreover, the method of application also plays a crucial role. In case of insect/disease management, the sprays need to be given extensively. It does not necessarily mean that the trees need to be washed out. Misting has proven to be effective provided every part of the tree is covered with chemical spray.
Fertilizers are being used indiscriminately. Ineffective fertilizer usage, ignoring soil health, offers no benefit to tree vitality. To truly enhance tree health, a comprehensive understanding of nutrient roles, current soil status, and specific objectives is imperative. Soil testing is one such tool that can help us in understanding our orchard needs and assist in better nutrient management. A sustainable approach to orchard management is the need of the hour to ensure flourishing yields for years to come while maintaining our resources.
Journeying through South Kashmir unveils a picturesque scene: verdant, unfenced orchards lining the road. These orchards, when bedecked with apples, look no less than carefully adorned Christmas trees. Witnessing firsthand the unwavering determination and the investments our farmers pour into their orchards, it becomes truly disheartening to see them struggling to reap produce that meets the desired standards of quality.
One such visit led us to an orchard plagued by leaf blotch miners. The leaf miner attack is one of our farmers’ top concerns in southern parts of Kashmir. These tiny insects hide inside the leaves, creating blotchy patterns that eventually cause the leaves to fall, especially when the infestation is severe.
Sadly, some farmers have been applying pesticides without seeking advice from experts, some have even been applying fungicides as they had mistaken it for an infection, while a few of them have been using pesticides whose use has been restricted, as these chemicals can harm beneficial insect populations. Such chemicals do help tackle the issue at the time, but they have a long-term detrimental effect on the environment.
The weather trends this season have not been very kind to our horticulture sector. Farmers mostly look for solutions that would fix the issues instantly, ignoring the root cause of the issues. The use of plant growth regulators (PGRs) to fix the issues in fruit setting, its retention and preventing fruit fall is also on the rise. We cannot expect our orchards to flourish by just using the PGRs while we ignore other important factors like nutrition, timely irrigation, maintaining optimum crop load, ensuring proper pollination and providing protection against biotic stresses. Farmers should keep in mind the importance of timing and the dosage while dealing with the PGRs.
Farmer awareness stands as the linchpin for driving progress within the horticulture sector. When an orchard has a history of physiological imbalances or has been attacked by pests and diseases, it is mandatory to implement preventive actions well ahead of symptom onset proactively. Post-harvest management practices play a crucial role for next season. We should focus on proper orchard sanitation and nutrient management practices after the fruits are harvested to prepare the trees for next season. The essence of effective orchard management lies in the judicious execution of timely interventions – a cornerstone in fostering a resilient and flourishing horticultural landscape.
Mariya Dar has a master’s in soil sciences.