What ails the citrus crop?

A host of problems say experts, which can only be addressed through better management 

Agriculture: Citrus production has slumped across the nation, confusing and frustrating growers, agriculture officials say.

National Plant Protection Centre’s (NPPC) plant protection specialist (Dr) Thinlay said widespread presence of diseases such as citrus greening, and weeds compounded by poor management have led to the slump in yield this year.

NPPC officials inspected orchards across the country twice to study the poor yields and discovered different causing factors in different areas.

Citrus trees were severely hampered by the prevalence of Huanglongbing or citrus greening in low-lying places, while there was extensive fruit dropping in major orange-growing areas such as Tsirang and Pemagatshel.

“In some areas most of the trees are too old and have reached advance stage of decline,” (Dr) Thinlay said. “It’s difficult to point to one factor for the general low harvest this year.”

Tsirang has been a focus of area-wide management programmes on Chinese citrus fly and powdery mildew. A researcher at the Tsirang research and development sub-centre, Kinley Dorji said a hailstorm and a few windstorms in March and April, when the trees were flowering also contributed to poor yields in Dagana and Tsirang.

Other agriculture officials joined the farmers in blaming a bumper harvest last season for the poor yield this year.

“The enormous yield could have used lots of nutrition from the soil, which has depleted the nutrition reserve in the land, thus the poor yield in the following season,” Kinley Dorji said.

However, (Dr) Thinlay said this is unlikely to happen in citrus trees. “If the orchard is properly managed, the fruit does not have the alternate fruit bearing habit,” he said.

While there were issues with pests and citrus greening, poor management has worsened the production, National Citrus Programme Coordinator, Lakey said.

The government also issued two executive orders to manage citrus greening. Most orchards in southern Bhutan have their owners living in other parts of the country and are not maintained properly.

Agriculture records show that about 500 acres across the citrus growing areas are left abandoned with their owners living in other districts. Not having enough able people to help with the scientific management of orchards is another factor.

“Most orchards have only old people who are unable to manage them well,” the plant protection expert said.

Orchards not managed scientifically pose a serious challenge to the ministry’s 11th Plan targets to expand citrus growing area by about 1,242 acres. The research and development centre in Wengkhar, Mongar has established 245 citrus orchards in the eastern dzongkhags with 11,000 trees.

In the past two years, the ministry rehabilitated 400 acres of mandarin plantation in Samtse, Chukha, Dagana, Trongsa, and the eastern dzongkhags. It has a target of rehabilitating about 26 percent of citrus growing area in the 11th Plan.

While orange has become a prominent commercial crop, it has no resemblance of a commercial undertaking in terms of the efforts and investments put in by growers, officials say.

“Almost 70 percent of orchards in the country have trees with an average age of more than 25 years,” Lakey said. He added the situation is grave but its impact might not be as dismal as portrayed in media reports.

The industry is wrought with other challenges – poor adoption of new technologies developed by research agencies, existence of private nurseries, which could spread diseases and pests, and mild response from the local governments.

Despite having a master plan, strategy and targets, the programme is short-staffed, lacks budget and has yet to receive the impetus from stakeholders.

The ministry has conducted a series of farmer trainings. It also developed and circulated manuals, advocacy materials, 250 power sprayers worth Nu 7 million and trained 250 agriculture extension staff on identifying vectors, pests and diseases.

The country’s orange exports reached Nu 850 million (M) last year, Nu 519M in 2013, Nu 452M in 2012, and Nu 327M in 2011.

Tshering Palden

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