As the harvesting of kinnow, Punjab’s “king fruit”, has begun, orchardists hope for a good return even as its production is expected to dip significantly this time.
Farmers and traders say against the average wholesale rates of ₹22 per kg in the last season, the average price this year has increased to the record ₹28-30 per kg at the farm gate, a direct marketing method whereby farmers sell their produce directly to the consumer.
Lesser yield is due to acute canal water scarcity and unexpected higher temperatures during the flowering stage of plants. Upset over erratic canal water supply, several farmers uprooted their orchards.
Punjab leads in the cultivation of kinnow, a hybrid between king and willow leaf mandarin. Abohar produces 60% of the state’s fruit with 33,000 hectares under its cultivation. Stakeholders say last season, Abohar produced about 10 lakh tonnes of kinnow.
Kinnow grower from Abohar Arvind Setia, who has been successfully cultivating the citrus fruit since 1983, said a farmer has to spend about ₹50,000 per acre annually on fungicides, insecticides, fertilisers, pruning and weed removal, even if an orchard with no fruits.
“Kinnow is harvested only once a year and not all farmers can afford to invest money when they see low production of fruits but have to spend to keep orchards survive for another year,” he says.
Southern India is the biggest market for Punjab’s kinnow and the region plays a vital role in deciding the pricing, say orchardists.
Leading kinnow exporter and grower Surinder Charaya said this time production is likely to drop by 40% than the last season.
“A sizeable part of the kinnow-growing belt was deprived of irrigation support for weeks on several occasions since February this year due to repeated breaches in the canal. High temperature during fruit setting time around March severely hit the crop,” he said.
Another orchardist from Abohar’s Giddranwali Pradeep Dawra said early this year, kinnow plants also suffered citrus psyllid, a sap-sucking pest responsible for the widespread destruction of citrus fruits, that further hit the prospects of fruit growers. “After poor production in 2021 due to alternate bearing, we were hoping to recover our losses this season. But all hopes were dashed in the beginning of the season,” adds Dawra.
According to HS Rattanpal, principal horticulturist, Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), orchardists may recover losses as this time rates are quite remunerative.
“This time, the kinnow farms in Doaba region’s Hoshiarpur were not much affected, but a sizeable section in Abohar and Muktsar suffered unfavourable conditions,” he said.
Echoing the views of the expert, Dishant Munjhal, who has an orchard at Khubban village on the Abohar-Dabwali road, said: “In the previous season, traders paid an average wholesale rate of ₹25 per kg at the farm gate. It was more than 100% than in 2020 when farmers got ₹11 per kg and higher rates this time will compensate orchardists,” he adds.