By Prem Thakur
Kullu, April 28 : Apple growers in the Himachal's Kullu valley are a worried lot due to the increased acreage of pine forests in the region that has led to rise in temperature and ultimately affected the apple cultivation.
While pine vegetation is commercially important, as it is valued for timber and wood pulp across the world, it also has its demerits that affect horticultural activity in the valley.
Apple cultivation is a major business in Himachal's Kullu valley and is done on both sides of the River Beas in Himalayas.
Pines were introduced in Kullu valley in the seventies.
Apple growers, however, blame the forest department for the increased pine tree acreage in the Kullu valley.
"The vegetation in this area is mainly of broad leaved tress. Unfortunately, these have been cut off and replaced with pine trees. The ratio should ideally have been 23 per cent pine trees with the remaining being broad leaved trees. The department, however, erred and most of the freshly planted trees are pines and due to this the environmental temperature has increased," said Ami Chand Bhandari, an apple grower.
Orchard owners also lament the fact that the chilling hours that are crucial for apple cultivation have been seriously hampered, as pine forests have destroyed the naturally conducive temperature levels.
"The pine forest which is spread across the entire region here increases the chilling hours of apples. The chilling hours for apples should be between 1200-1400. Unfortunately, the pine forest expanse acts as a buffer and proper chilling cannot take place. Further, the pine trees increase temperatures by about two degree centigrade and this has an adverse affect on the apple produce," said Roshan Lal, an apple grower.
Environmentalists and scientists say the pine trees have affected the natural environs of the Kullu valley. They suggest planting of broad-leaved trees as an alternative to replace the pine forests.
"Where there is a forest of broad leaf trees, the air, water and soil of the region are conserved. There air in such places is moisture laden and rainfall is aplenty. If we develop forests with broad-leaved trees around the apple orchards, it would be ideal for a bumper fruit crop," said S. S. Samanat, Scientist in charge of the G.B.Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, Himachal Unit in Mohal (Kullu).
Apple cultivation is the main source of income in Himachal Pradesh and over 70 percent people are dependent on it.