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As rains, snow and cold grip Kashmir, apple farmers grapple with flower fall 

Farhan Khan – Ziraat Times

Srinagar: As rains and cold grip Kashmir, a sizeable number of apple farmers in most areas of Kashmir are reporting unusual flower fall in their orchards.
This comes after days of incessant rains in the plains and conisderable snowfall in the mountains.
Kashmir experienced unusually warm temperatures in early March, triggering early bud break and flowering in apple trees.
Speaking to Ziraat Times, Director Horticulture Department, Zahoor Ahmad Bhat said that flowering stage is most critical and sensitive stage in apple orchards. “It needs favourable weather conditions for proper fruit set. At least 4-5 days dry spell is must during full bloom to allow honey bees to move and work in orchards”, he added.
Farmers who spoke to Ziraat Times say that the warmer March has been  followed by a sudden drop in temperatures in mid-April, coinciding with the crucial pollination period.
Ziraat Times spoke to several progressive farmers and experts who feel that climate change is suspected to be a major factor behind this erratic weather pattern.
Dr Tariq Rasool, a scientist at the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST) has been running a survey on social media among apple farmers to understand how these rains were influencing fruit set, emergence of fungi and impacting the application of fungicides.
The responses from farmers indicate that they are concerned about this situation.
What is more worrying is the flower fall, which means a lower fruit set and lower income.
“Excessive cold and wet conditions after a very warm weather seem to hinder bee activity, essential for transferring pollen between flowers and facilitating fruit development. Rain can also wash away pollen grains, further reducing pollination success”, said Shabana Khan who researches pollination patterns in apple orchards in the face of climate change at a European University.
Several apple farmers from Sopore, Pattan, Anantnag, Pulwama, Kulgam and Shopian, who wrote to Ziraat Times on the current situation, said that they feel that this weather could lead to inadequate pollination which in turn can lead to a significant decrease in the number of fruits developing on trees.
“This translates to lower harvest volumes and income for farmers”, Ms Shabana said.
Experts are also warning of increased risk of fungal diseases and pest infestations after the rains stop.
“The moist environment creates favorable conditions for pathogens to thrive. And that would compel farmers to repeat fungicide sprays, leading to more input cost at a time of high inflation”, says Nasir Ahmed,  a progressive farmer who has developed a modern apple farm in Pattan area.
Expert view on solutions
Experts believe that after the rains subside, farmers might need to apply fungicides to their orchards to prevent the spread of fungal diseases. Monitoring for pests and implementing appropriate control measures might be necessary to safeguard remaining fruits.
When it comes to long-term strategies, adopting new farming practices like using cold-resistant apple varieties and adjusting irrigation techniques based on weather forecasts are also being recommended to mitigate the impact of unpredictable weather events.
In extreme cases, farmers may even have to consider techniques like hand pollination to ensure fruit set if bee activity remains low due to unfavorable weather, something that is rarely practised in Kashmir.
Besides all this, farmers are also missing the crop insurance scheme which can provide some financial security in such situations in case of crop failures due to adverse weather conditions.

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