MORIOKA -- About 6,000 Shinano Gold apples were plucked by some unknown picker just before harvest time from an orchard in northeastern Japan, and police are investigating the case as possible theft.
An apple farmer in the Iwate Prefecture town of Shiwa found that the apples were missing and filed a report with Iwate Prefectural Police's Shiwa Police Station on the morning of Nov. 2. Following the incident, Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA) Iwate Chuoh has decided to put up a notice in fruit sorting sites alerting producers to be on their guard.
Shin Fujinuma, director of the fruit producers' association that manages the orchard, arrived at the scene around 6 a.m. on Nov. 2 to harvest apples. He noticed that the apples were missing immediately, and it appears that almost all the apples had been plucked from some 70 trees between Oct. 29 -- the last time he made rounds in the orchard -- and Nov. 2.
There were traces of containers for storing picked apples being flipped over and used as stools, as well as what appeared to be light truck tracks. Furthermore, several branches had been broken off. Fujinuma commented, "It takes about four to five years for new branches to grow. Our yield will be lower until then."
The stolen Shinano Gold apples were tabbed to be sold as gift items, and had a market value of around 1.2 million yen (about $11,460). "This year's apples had excellent color and shape. Even bears leave after eating a few, so the thieves are nastier than bears. I'm frustrated, and can't stand this one bit."
A JA Iwate Chuoh representative commented, "We urge producers to jot down the license plate numbers of any unfamiliar vehicles around farms, and to lock places where produce is kept after harvest." Theft of large quantities of fruits including mikan citrus, peaches, and grapes have also been reported in other prefectures in Japan.
(Japanese original by Yutaka Yamada, Morioka Bureau)