Soon after the plucking of apples begins, orchardists across Kashmir look for packers. Apple packers locally called Barai Wael are skilled labourers who can make or mar rates with their packing.
Irfan Ahmad, an expert packer from Wasimarg village of Pulwama, said packing of apples plays an essential part in deciding the rate of an apple box in the market.
“A good packer ensures that all apples in a box should match in their grade which includes size, colour and other parameters,” he said, adding that normally focus is given to the first and last layer of an apple box.
He added that a buyer usually checks the lowest and the uppermost layer along with corner apples from the middle layers.
“The rate is determined by these two layers and corner apples,” he said, adding that apple packers usually give special attention to these two layers and corner apples for which the best quality fruits are chosen.
He added that middle layers are comparatively taken casually.
“As packers, we should pack apples of a particular grade homogeneously in all layers,” he said, adding that a perfectly graded apple box fetches a better rate.
On the basis of layers apple boxes are classified into two categories, 5 layered and 4 layered.
Five-layer box contains up to 111 medium-sized apples and the 4 layered one contains 56 apples of comparatively larger size. The small-sized apples are named Roll.
Quality wise the boxes can be classified as ‘A’ or ‘B' grade. High-quality apples fall under grade ‘A’ and those with minor stains as category ‘B’.
Khurshid Ahmad, another experienced packer, said as demand for packers increases manifold during the post-harvest season many orchardists fall prey to amateurs.
“A day ago, I inspected boxes of an apple grower in a neighbouring village, the packing was not up to the mark and it was redone,” he said.
Ghulam Nabi Ganie, a marginal farmer, said that his apple boxes were returned from a local Mandi last year because two amateur packers had made a hotchpotch of the packing.
For packing harvested apples are collected at one place where their stems are pruned and then they are separated into different grades.
Afterward, they are packed into corrugated fibreboard cartons or wooden boxes. The packed boxes are then sold in the market.
Packaging apples into boxes generates employment for thousands of people across Kashmir during October and November. Each packer charges around rupees 700 a day.