For three consecutive years, grape growers in Nashik and Sangli district of Maharashtra have been bearing the brunt of vagaries of nature and the effect they are having on production cost.
The exceptionally long tail of monsoon followed by increased moisture in winter has made the crop prone to fungal infection and affected yields.
Nashik, the grape capital of India, had emerged as the most favorable location for the first vineyards, given its long dry and sunny winters. Touted as California of the East, Nashik had been providing the ideal location for vineyards with the main harvest months of October to March being marked by dry and sunny days. Diurnal difference and low moisture content during these months had allowed better yield and higher sugar content in the fruit.
However, for the last three years, growers have about increased moisture content during the winter months which has affected their produce.
Vilas Shinde, Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) of Nashik-based Sahyadri Farmers Producers Company — the largest grape exporter in the country — said lingering rains in winter have led to loss of yield. “Other than rains, winter months have seen increased incidents of mist and cloudy days. This has led to slowed metabolism of the vines and, as a result, low yields,” he said. Instead of the normal 12 tonnes per acre, farmers are reporting only about 6-8 tonnes per acre produce.
This reduced yield comes mostly during the season of November-March, when the produce hits the domestic and international markets. Also, lower sugar formation in the fruit affects its marketability.
What worries Shinde most is that over the last three years, fungal attacks such as mildew have become more common. “Control of this has led to increased cost of production, and lower yields, which has led to lower income. This has threatened to upturn the economics of the growers,” he said.
Meanwhile, this year, Shinde said 350 containers have left India for Russia and European Union till date. Shinde said exports would reach the levels of last year if there are no untoward weather events later in the season. Grape growers have decided on a minimum selling price below which they would not be ready to provide produce for export markets, insiders said. For this month, most of the consignments for European Union has been traded above the fixed price for Rs 82/kg. There were some incidents wherein the fruit was sold to Dubai and Russian markets below the fixed level, but mostly, farmers have sold above the fixed price.