Chill effects: Grapes sour but tourism soars

Farmers say cold wave has hampered crop growth -- quality, cost of fruits, specially grapes, to be affected; but cold is warming up business for tour operators in hill stations

While you may be relishing the nippy weather and making plans for weekend getaways, the cold, it turns out, is likely to cost you more than just the vacation tab.

No low-hanging fruit: The director of a winery in Nashik said that about
10 per cent of the wine grape crop has been affected, and wine quality is
going to deteriorate if grapes do not meet the required parameters of
taste. File pic

Fruits like watermelon, muskmelon and grapes could start weighing heavily on your pocket, because with parts of the state witnessing extreme cold, crops that require a moderate temperature have been affected.

The worst hit are the grape crops in Nashik, as below normal temperatures, even in the afternoon, are intolerable to the growing produce. Experts fear if the temperature continues to remain where it is, most crops might not flower, affecting yield, and thereby costs.

HR Bhonde, additional director of National Horticultural Research and Development Foundation (NHRDF), confirmed the same.

"Fruits such as watermelon and muskmelon and vegetables such as cucumber, brinjal and tomato require a relatively warmer climate to grow. With the state witnessing a cold wave for the last two weeks, the crop growth has been hampered. Fortunately, the impact is not that huge, but if the temperature continues to remain the same, we might see the effects soon," he said.

Bhonde said that many farmers are fully aware of these extreme temperatures and know well in advance which technology to use to save the crops.

"As of now, many farmers are found using smoke skills that help create warmth for the development of crops. Thankfully, it has not rained or it would have been a disaster for farmers as chances of fungal infection are higher when it pours," he said.

Worst hit: grape
For grape cultivation, the cold temperature has been a worry since the last three weeks. "In 25 years of my experience, I haven't seen such extreme cold temperature.

The worst is that though nights in Nashik are always cold, this time even the afternoons are chilly. Fortunately, the last two days' temperature has been higher. But if the mercury dips, it will affect the quality of grapes. The crop already harvested has few takers as many avoid grapes in the winter," said Vijay Gadakh, president, Maharashtra State Grape Growers Association (MSGGA).

Grapes could crack in extreme cold, as the mercury dropped to 5 degrees Celsius recently, the lowest in the state, in the traditional crop belt in Nashik. In the Konkan region, a prolonged cold spell could be detrimental to mango blooms, say experts.

"As of now, about 10 per cent of the wine grape crop has been affected. The quality of wine is definitely going to deteriorate if sweetness, sourness etc are not up to the mark to meet the quality that wine making demands. Hopefully, the temperature would rise," said vintner Rajesh Jadhav, director of Rajdheer Wines, Nashik, and secretary of All India Wine Producers Association.

Day-trippers delight 
Though the cold wave is a bane for farmers, it is a boon for the tourism industry, attracting vacationers who want to enjoy the chill. Confirming the same, Suhas Padte, a tour operator from Fort, said, "Most tourists have to cancel or postpone their trip to the north due to heavy snowfall, and people are looking for a shorter trip to hill stations, where they can enjoy the cold weather." The lake in the hill station of Mahabaleshwar has iced over, drawing in more footfalls. "The dew drops at the hill station are attracting tourists as it gives a feel of snowfall," he added. Another tour operator from Girgaum, Mahesh Panchal, said, "With a long weekend round the corner and a favourable temperature, many are opting for short and domestic tours. Matheran and Mahabaleshwar are the most preferred destinations."

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