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Potatoes growing at high altitude in Himachal to get global attention

Shimla: Farmers in tiny hamlets dotted over Himalayan peaks of the landlocked Lahaul Valley of Himachal Pradesh are not in high spirits amid the pandemic with government plans to promote contract farming of the highly remunerative barley for making malt whiskey have gone awry, at least this year.

But the Polish company that recently signed a pact with the state is eyeing to compensate growers owing to coronavirus by procuring locally grown high variety, disease-free Kufri Chandramukhi and Kufri Jyoti varieties of potatoes — rated the best in the world for high altitude growing — for its vodka brands.

State agriculture officials said it is not feasible to go for planting barley at this point in time as the summer cultivation season in the valley is almost near completion.

“We were hopeful to go for contract farming of barley this season, but the coronavirus scare had delayed it, maybe for a year now. This season we again went for the cultivation of our traditional potato crop,” Ishwar Bodh, a farmer in Darcha village, told over phone.

The Lahaul Valley is known for growing prized seed potatoes, whose history goes back to 1854 when missionary A.W. Hide from Germany established a farm near Keylong, the district headquarters town some 350 km from state capital Shimla. The seed potatoes are in great demand in states like West Bengal, Bihar and Karnataka. The other cash crops are peas, cauliflower and hops.

According to the producer of the award winning spirits ZOUK and Extill, world’s single estate rye vodkas, the geographic and climatic conditions of Himachal Pradesh is on a par with the Scotland’s and many other European regions which will lead to deriving a unique and special terroir.

Likewise, there has been a near decline in the cultivation of hops, a key ingredient in brewing beer, as a major cash crop in the valley owing to dumping of cheaper varieties from China, the US and Germany.

Neilson Europe President Gaurav Rajput told this year owing to the coronavirus pandemic there was delay in onset of contact farming.

“We are now going for contract farming of barley in April next year. To compensate the farmers this year, we are going to procure the locally grown potatoes that are probably the world’s highest altitude produce,” he said. The company is setting up a distillery-cum-bottling plant in the state.

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