Niu Liang, a researcher at the Zhengzhou Fruit Research Institute that operates in Henan province under the Chinese Academy of Agriculture Sciences said that peaches from the institute's experimental strains were stolen on Monday night.
The institute had spent over 10 years cultivating the fruit that was worth an estimated 100,000 yuan (USD 15,700), the China Daily reported.
Niu said the peaches, of nearly 20 different varieties, are the brainchild of the institute, which cost more than a decade to cultivate and an investment of more than 2 million yuan.
"Lots of the peaches are from the new-strain programme of the institute's 12th five-year plan," Niu said. "Some of them are from State-sponsored projects."
With the help of his colleagues Niu managed to catch one of the three suspects in the orchard, the other two escaped.
Li Yonggang, the suspect caught by Niu, is a middle-aged man from the local village who has no idea about the real value of the peaches.
"I really didn't know that the peaches were so expensive," Li was quoted by the local media as saying.
Li claimed he did not know the names of the other two suspects, and all of them were jobless men who met in front of the local Buddhism association where job-hunters usually gathered to wait for employers.
"I only knew that one of them is a fortuneteller, and the other one is an incense seller," Li said.
"Our research programme is delayed for at least a year due to this theft, with an economic loss of more than 100,000 yuan," Niu said.
Chen Tao from the Beijing Lawyers' Association said the suspects are unlikely to be charged with criminal offences because they had no clue to the real value of the peaches they stole.