SRINAGAR: Apple growers across Kashmir are very much worried by the premature fruit fall this year besides the continuing spread of the crop diseases alternaria and leaf blotch in further parts. Experts blame the conditions caused by the incessant unseasonal rains that lashed the Kashmir valley in June, creating a flood like situation.

Apple growers across the region said it is the first time they are witnessing such an extent of fruit fall in June and July, every morning they see dozens of apples have fallen near the trunks of trees. They said the fruit drop has been consistent for over a week now, and think that the pesticides they used may be the reason.

Mohammad Altaf, an apple grower from the Shopian district in south Kashmir said that after three long years there was a bumper crop in his orchards spread over 10 kanals, but the premature fruit fall is becoming a cause of concern for him now. "We have been suffering a lot for the last several weeks. There is a risk of further damage," he said, adding that the horticulture department must give some advice in this regard.

He said that if the fruit fall continues at this rate there won't be any apple left on the trees when the harvesting season comes. "Never before have so many apples fallen from the trees as this year. If the rate of falling remains the same, there will be a lot of damage in the future."

Ab Rashid, a grower from Budgam in central Kashmir, said that every day when he visits his orchard he sees that dozens more apples have fallen from every tree. "It is really very premature fruit fall and we have never witnessed such kind of fruit fall in this season," he confirmed.

Unusual diseases have also been observed after the rain. Abdul Majeed, an orchardist from the Tahab village in Pulwama, said that around 10 percent of the leaves in his orchards have turned yellow and started falling from the trees, adding that the leaves were green and fresh before the rains.

Another orchardist in the Sopore tehsil commonly known as apple town said that diseases including necrotic leaf and alternaria blotches have harmed his 20 kanal apple orchard. He estimates a near 40% fruit fall in his orchard. "The relevant department should guide us in this regard so that we can avoid further damage," he said.

In the last three or four years, according to Muhammad Muzamil, another fruit grower from Bandipora, the horticulture sector has suffered due to early snowfall, the Covid lockdown and other issues. He said that if the situation continues it may prove disastrous for growers.

Meanwhile experts said the damage is due to the stress on orchards caused by incessant rains followed by unseasonally high temperatures, and that spraying plant growth regulators besides improper irrigation and nutrient management are other possible reasons for the premature fruit fall. They said such conditions can be managed by farmers by following an advisory issued by the horticulture department in this regard.

An official at the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Agricultural Sciences (SKUAST) said these conditions have been caused by the incessant rains that have lashed the Kashmir valley.

As per the advisory issued by the horticulture department, in view of the recent rains followed by prevailing hot and dry weather conditions, most of the apple plantations are experiencing physiological stress, giving rise to necrotic leaf blotch, apple lenticle blotch, yellowing of leaves and minor incidence of alternaria leaf blotch as well.

Given the prevailing weather conditions, it advises orchardists to ensure proper orchard sanitation, removal of green grass/ weeds growing in the orchards especially under the tree canopy, and proper basin management and mulching with straw, grass or film under the tree canopy for soil moisture conservation. It also advises farmers to spray their orchards with appropriate fungicides during the early morning hours before any fresh rains.

Meanwhile, a delegation from the Kashmir Fruit Growers and Dealers Association led by Sheikh Muzaffar, president of the J&K Nationalist People's Front called on Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha at Raj Bhavan here on Friday.

Horticulture is one of the important sectors of Jammu and Kashmir, and contributes 8% to the GSDP according to government figures. Some 7.5 lakh families of around 35 lakh souls are associated with this sector.