The much-awaited Delicious variety of apples from Himachal Pradesh's Kinnaur district, known for their natural sweetness, colour and succulence, have hit the markets and are fetching remunerative prices in Delhi and Chandigarh, as also in Punjab and Haryana, a horticulture official here said.
"We are expecting production of over two million boxes (of 22.5 kg each) in the district," state horticulture director Gurdev Singh told IANS.
"A box of superior apple variety from Kinnaur is selling between Rs.2,200 and Rs.2,400 ($35-$39) in the Delhi market, which is 25-30 percent higher than apples coming from other districts," said Jai Chand, a trader at Narkanda apple market, some 65 km from Shimla.
He said the initial lots of apples from Kinnaur fetched over Rs.3,000 per box.
Superior grades like Royal Delicious, Red Chief, Super Chief, Oregon Spur and Scarlet Spur have just started arriving, but the supply would pick up in the next few days.
The price of a crate increases by Rs.50-Rs.100 in the Delhi and Chandigarh wholesale markets.
Gurdev Singh said the harvesting of apples in Kinnaur has picked up in orchards located at lower altitudes. "In the Chango and Kalpa areas the orchards are at higher elevation and the harvesting there will begin in the last week of this month."
Apples in Kinnaur are grown at an altitude above 10,000 feet. The prominent apple belts in the district are Sangla, Kalpa, Chango, Nichar and Pooh.
Retailers and street vendors often sell apples from other parts of Himachal Pradesh as Kinnauri apples. But the reality is that Kinnaur apples start coming only in October.
Experts say the normal apple production in Kinnaur is around 2 million to 2.2 million boxes, which is six to seven percent of the state's total yield.
Apple grower Ramesh Kumar, who is settled in Nako village in Pooh, said the crop is still maturing.
"It will take 10 to 15 days to start harvesting," he said.
Another apple grower, Jagat Singh Negi, who is settled in Sangla, said most of the crop in the area has been harvested.
Traders in Shimla say apples from Kinnaur start arriving at that time when the crop from other areas in the state is almost over. That is why it commands a good price.
Besides apples, other fruits like pears, apricots, almonds and grapes - both green and black - are Kinnaur's other major commercial crops.
The horticulture department estimates that the state is expected to produce 25-30 percent less apples this season compared to last year's bumper production of over 32.2 million boxes.
So far, over 24 million boxes of various apple varieties have been sent to various markets in the country.
Horticulture department surveys say apple productivity ranges from six tonnes to 11.5 tonnes per hectare in the state, against 35-40 tonnes in more advanced countries.
The hill state is one of India's major apple-producing regions, with more than 90 percent of the produce going to the domestic market.
Apples accounted for 90 percent of the Rs.35 billion the state earned last year from the sale of horticultural produce.