The one bright spot, literally, is that growers in the Darjeeling hills are expecting a good crop due to adequate rainfall and bright sunny days that are keeping pests away. However, the fall in production is not likely to impact the orange juice and orange drinks manufacturing industry in the country that are virtually relying on concentrates from Brazil and Cyprus.
"We have lost 90% of the crop of the Ambia season (End October till December). The crop in the Mrig season (February till April), which will come to the market from February onwards, is at the moment in a flowering and fruiting stage. This too has been damaged as the small fruits have fallen off with the rainfall," said Shreedhar Thakre, president, Mahaorange, the association of orange growers of Maharashtra. Major belts of the state that accounts for 50% of the orange production of the country are Amaravati, Wardha and Nagpur.
In Punjab, Haryana and certain parts of Rajasthan, an increase in temperature has led to more incidences of fruit droppings. In Punjab, over 50,000-hectare land is under orange plantation. However, these losses could be minimised with good production expected in Darjeeling hills, said Madan Limbu, an orange grower from Bunkulung in Mirik block, 55 km from Siliguri.
Traders at the Siliguri regulated market, from where the fruit is supplied to the state and also to neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal, hope to get better crop and price this year. Siliguri Regulated Market Fruits and Vegetables Commission Agents Association president Tapan Saha said, "The oranges have started arriving in the market a fortnight earlier and we are hopeful of a good season."
With supply getting squeezed, prices have gone up. "Farmers are getting Rs 2,000 per 1000 oranges, which is twice last year's price," said Mr Thakre. In Punjab, at farm gate, traders were paying farmers Rs 13-14 a kg compared with Rs 7-8 a kg in the previous year, said Surinder Ahuja from Fazilka town in Ferozepur district of Punjab.
Abohar-based trader Krishan of Sai Kripa waxing plant said that daily 70 trucks of 10 tonne each were being dispatched to New Delhi, Bangalore, Coimbatore, Chennai, Kolkata and Ahmedabad markets. Similarly in the North East, farmers were getting Rs 50,000 for an orchard of 1-1.5 acre with 120 plants, compared with Rs 10,000 in the previous year.
As said earlier, orange juice manufacturers are unlikely to be impacted by the fall in production as most of them have shifted to importing concentrates. Dynamix Dairies, which contract manufactures for Tropicana, imports concentrates from countries like Brazil and Cyprus. Similarly, companies like PepsiCo and Jain Irrigation Systems have moved out of processing of oranges (kinnows) and tomatoes in Punjab and supply imported concentrate to Hindustan Coca Cola Company.
"Indian market has to be made more competitive where productivity of the crop has to be enhanced," said Pepsico executive director, agriculture and corporate affairs, Vivek Bharti, while adding that the country in the long run had the potential.