"The imported apples are quite costly these days and beyond the reach of the common man. So, apples from Himachal that are comparatively cheaper are their preferred choice," Gopal Mehta, a prominent apple grower of Kotgarh in upper Shimla said.

The rupee had gained 24 paise and was at 59.59 to the dollar on Tuesday morning against 59.35 at close of trade on Friday. Himachal Pradesh is a major apple-producing state in the country.

In 2012-13, the total production was over 20.4 million boxes - 20 percent less than state's normal yield of 25 million boxes (of 20 kg each).This season the state is heading to a bumper production of over 35 million apple boxes. Trade representatives say 40-50 percent of the country's apple market is being captured by the imported ones, mainly from China, the US, New Zealand, Australia and Chile. A standard box containing 20 kg of top quality imported apples, which ranged from Rs.1,700 to Rs.2,000 ($29-34) in Delhi's Azadpur wholesale fruit market last year, now costs around Rs.2,600.

"There is a sharp decline in apple imports. Of course, the domestic market gets a push," Sanjay Mahajan, deputy general manager of agro commodities trading house Adani Agrifresh said.

The retail price of the imported apples, which was around Rs.150 a kg last year, is currently above Rs.200, which is almost double that of the domestic fruit, he added.

According to the Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics (DGCI&S), the import of apples had increased by more than 50 percent from 134,576 tonnes in 2010-11 to 199,262 tonnes in 2012-13.

Trade representatives say the major influx of imported apples is from China, which has controlled almost 40 percent of the total market, followed by the US, Chile and New Zealand.

DGCI&S says China exported 73,648 tonnes of apples to India (out of the total Indian import of 188,071 tonnes in 2011-12).During that year 63,651 tonnes was imported from the US, 21,331 from Chile, 10,425 from New Zealand and 2,137 tonnes from Italy and the rest from other countries.

"We will definitely procure maximum fruit from the domestic market," Mahajan added. This year, Adani Agrifresh aims to procure 22,000 tonnes of apples from this state. Last year it procured 16,500 tonnes.

"With the decline in the Indian rupee, the focus is more on domestic buying. The current trends indicate growers will get good returns throughout the season," Himalayan Apple Growers Society chairman Rajeev Chauhan said.

Apple harvesting has just begun in some pockets of Shimla, Kullu and Mandi districts and will pick up by the middle of next month. It continues till November. Early varieties such as Red June, Summer Queen and Tydeman's Early Worcester, though inferior in quality, have reached markets in Chandigarh, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi.

"A 20 kg box of Tydeman's Early Worcester is being sold for up to Rs.1,300 in Dhalli (wholesale fruit market near Shimla) which is Rs.100 to Rs.200 higher than last year," a trader said.

The same apples are selling for Rs.80-100 per kg in the retail markets of Chandigarh and Delhi. As per the estimates of the horticulture department, production of approximately 765,000 tonnes is expected this season. It says 689,000 tonnes of apple are likely to be marketed out of the state. Horticulture is a vital sector in the Himachal Pradesh economy as it generates more than Rs.3,200 crore annually.


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