Strawberry growers in Maharashtra say that the season of 2017 is tough. This could probably be the worst season for growers with 90% of the fruit rotting due to excessive rains, top officials of the Strawberry Growers Association of India (SGAI) said. Last year, the late arrival of winter hit strawberry production but this season most of the produce is damaged due to fluctuating climate and unseasonal rains through the last month. According to Balasaheb Bhilare, president of SGAI, farmers are forced to throw away 90% of the produce because of excess water. Only 10-15% of the harvested crop is good enough to sell, he said. Therefore, the prices are also low in the range of Rs 60-70 per kg, he said. The daily production from the 2,000-acre strawberry plantation in Mahabaleshwar and surrounding regions is around 10 tonne during this season. In Maharashtra alone, strawberries are cultivated in around 2,500 acres of land. This year, growers cultivated strawberries in 3,000 acres around Mahabaleshwar, he said, unwilling to give out production numbers. There is little point in talking about the total production when only 10-15% of it is in a good state, he said. Usually, production in the Panchgani-Mahabaleshwar belt is around 2,500 tonne when season is good. “There have been ample rains this season and unseasonal rains continued throughout, resulting in soil clogging at a time when the fruit required some sunlight and clear weather,” he said.
“Rainfall caused significant damage to close to 90% strawberry plantations in their most important growth stage of fruiting. Harvested strawberries and crops in the fields are falling prey to fungal infections, reducing the shelf life of the berry,” he said, adding that the stock hitting the markets too was of inferior quality with a consequent 50% reduction in the retail prices. The rates of strawberries in the markets have come down drastically to Rs 30-40 per tray. Strawberries are more susceptible to fungal damage than other fruits because the berry does not have an outer coating of protection. “Once it gets caught in an unseasonal spell of rain, it is bound to be damaged,” he said.