Shimla: Apple farmers in Shimla district are a worried lot these days. The beginning of apple season has spelt doom as prices for early variety apples crashed within a week of arrival in the fruit markets at Shimla and Delhi.
Traders termed the downward trend in prices due to oversupply and poor quality of apples reaching the market. Drought and hailstorm had adversely hit the size and quality of the crop in the lower hills of Shimla district.
Tydeman, which sold last year at an average price of Rs. 1100 is being sold at Rs. 300 – 350 per box this year at Shimla market. This year during last week of June, Tydeman variety sold for Rs. 900 per box but once the arrivals increased, the prices too took a nosedive.
Increase in costs with a damaged crop due to hail storms is giving the fruit growers tough time this year. Fear of low returns have increased their woes.
Amar Singh Bhalaik, a fruit grower from Kotgarh said, ‘This year the prices for carton and trays have increased. Carton which was available for Rs. 30 – 35 last year is costing Rs. 38 – 42 this year. Prices for packing trays also has gone up. Recent hike in petroleum prices didn’t come at the right time. Truck unions and utility pick-up owners were quick to announce increase in transportation charges.’
He further lamented the problem of shortage of labour for plucking and packing the apples. ‘Due to the shortage of labour, wages this year are very high,’ he said.
While farmers are worried about the low returns, traders at Dhalli market say this year there has been bumper mango crop which is selling at low rates, pushing the demand low for early variety of apples. They also point out the prices for imported apple from China, Australia and New Zealand has fallen to Rs. 110 per kg from Rs. 180 and is competing directly with the domestic apples.
Not entire crop which is reaching the markets is of poor quality. Infact early variety apples like Tydeman, Red June, Red Gold, Spur are the one which ensure good returns in the beginning of the season as there is paucity of apples in the market. The earlier trend in prices sets the trend for future when high quality crop arrives in the market.
While the apple box is meant to be of 20 kg, traders force the growers to over-pack the cartons to 25 kg. Over packed apple cartons are sold at a higher rate than a normal 20 kg carton. This practice has caught up from the last two-three years. If the carton is not over-packed it sells at a comparatively low price.
There is a big gap in the prices at which apple is sold in fruit markets and what the end consumer finally pays. As Bhalaik puts it, “After selling my 25 kg apple cartons for Rs. 300 at Dhalli market, next day I found the apple vendors near the Lift (at Shimla) selling 2 kg pack of apples for Rs. 170.”
Clearly the trader, retailer nexus puts the apple growers at loss every year. Till today it is impossible to gauge how the apple is sold in fruit markets.