Shimla: In a complete turnaround, an almost-deserted apple orchard at the Regional Horticulture Research Station of the Dr Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry in Mashobra near here is now lush with apples and inter-crops.
Thanks to the introduction of the Subhash Palekar Natural Farming (SPNF) technique promoted by the Himachal Pradesh government under the 'Prakritik Kheti Khushhal Kisan Yojana' (PKKKY), the apple orchard has turned productive.
SPNF is a non-chemical natural farming concept developed by Padma Shri Subhash Palekar and is based on farm inputs prepared from urine and dung of indigenous cows in the farm itself.
It reduces the cost of cultivation drastically as the farmer is not required to buy inputs from the market.
"The SPNF intervention on the orchard with the same old plants, which had to be abandoned some years back for lack of resources, has shown encouraging results over the last two years. With the use of natural inputs like 'jeevaamrit' and 'ghanjeevaamrit' prepared from dung and urine of 'desi' cow, the overall health of the orchard has improved," Associate Director of the research station, Pankaj Gupta, told IANS.
Seven apple varieties are growing in the orchard under SPNF, including Gala, Origon and Red Chief.
PKKKY Executive Director Rajeshwar Singh Chandel visited the Mashobra orchard earlier this week.
He said that besides this scientific model on apples, the Nauini-based Dr Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry is also doing some experiments on vegetable crops.
Two agriculture researchers -- Shahzad Prabhoo from Maharashtra and Carole Durand from France -- also accompanied Chandel to the orchard in Mashobra for exposure.
The apple orchard brought under the SPNF technique measures less than one hectare and the research station proposes to bring more area under the SPNF shortly.
The yojana had funded Rs 67 lakh to the research station for a scientific trial on SPNF technique, along with setting up of infrastructure in 2019 and additional Rs 19 lakh in 2020.
The research station has also kept one 'Pahari' cow to follow the SPNF technique and plans to buy two more indigenous cows for the farm.
The apple orchard, which was giving negligible returns for many years in the past, gave estimated gross returns of around Rs 3,61,162 per hectare in 2019 after SPNF intervention, which increased to Rs 5,46,964 per hectare in 2020.
"The terminal growth in the orchard had stopped and the soil quality was very poor. However, since we adopted the orchard for trial under SPNF technique, the terminal growth is revived and the soil structure (porosity, water retention and texture) has improved. The earthworm population has increased. The plants are now healthy and the leaf size is good," said Usha Sharma, Scientist, Plant Pathology at the research station, who is supervising the SPNF trial.
"We will carry on the experiment for five years to establish and validate the success of the technique. Many issues are still emerging in SPNF technique in apple orchard and we are accordingly improvising," she added.
The beneficial mites in the orchard have increased with SPNF technique compared to the orchard managed by chemical farming.
The SPNF has evidently given a new lease of life to the orchard as it has not only improved the apple plants, but has given an opportunity to go for inter-cropping in the same land.
As a part of the SPNF experiment, the scientists took four crops alongside apples from the same orchard starting from peas to 'methi', beans and then to rajmash to supplement nutrients in soil and the overall economy.
The model of revival of the apple orchard by SPNF technique at Mashobra has become an attraction for researchers and officials lately, who visit the place in good numbers for exposure.
A total of 1,29,299 farmers including 12,000 apple growers have adopted SPNF technique so far under the 'Prakritik Kheti Khushhal Kisan Yojana' since 2018 in Himachal Pradesh, involving an area of 7,456 hectares.