West Virginia sees jump in apple crop

ROMNEY — West Virginia’s apple production jumped 36 percent in 2012 and, coupled with a big increase in the price per pound, more than doubled in value from 2011.

The 2012 peach crop proved more valuable than 2011’s as well because higher prices more than offset a drop in the harvest.

So whether it was more apples or fewer peaches, Eastern Panhandle orchardists ended up with more money in their pockets.

West Virginia produced 91 million pounds of apples in 2012. The Eastern Panhandle leads the state in apple production.

West Virginia produced 91 million pounds of apples in 2012. The Eastern Panhandle leads the state in apple production.

“It was a good year to have them,” said Garry Shanholtz, whose Jersey Mountain orchard is the largest in Hampshire County. “A lot of years, the more you had the more you lost.”

Both crops were aided by a warm winter that had trees blooming at some of the earliest dates on record. Hard frosts that came later put a scare into growers, but the bulk of the apple trees survived and went on to produce bumper yields. Shanholtz said he lost 70 percent of his peach crop in 2012.

Apples are by far the bigger crop.

West Virginia produced 91 million pounds of apples in 2012, nearly 11 times the 8.4 million pounds of peaches. About 95 percent of the production is here in the Eastern Panhandle counties.

The apple yield was up from 67 million pounds a year earlier, even though acreage dropped to 4,000 from 4,900 in 2011.

“I had the best crop I’ve had since 2008,” Shanholtz said.

Because frosts killed much of the crops in top-producing states like Michigan and New York, West Virginia growers were able to command prices of 25.8 cents a pound for their cops, up nearly 50 percent from the 17.5 cents a pound received in 2011.

“Those must have been prices for processing,” Shanholtz said. “Fresh price was better than that.”

The price bump exploded the state apple crop’s value to $23.2 million in 2012 from $11.4 million in 2011.

“We had the largest crop we’ve ever had,” Mark Orr, co-owner of George S. Orr & Sons Inc. orchard in Martinsburg, told the Charleston Daily Mail. “We had 517,000 bushels. The best year we’d had before that was something like 430,000.”

Peach production in the state dropped to 8.4 million pounds on 750 acres in 2012 from 11.4 million pounds on 950 acres the year before.

But the same price pressures that helped apple growers helped peach producers as well. The price per ton spiked almost 53 percent in 2012, hitting $1,300, up from $852 in 2011.

That set the value of the crop at $5.33 million, up $644,000 from a year earlier.

Both Shanholtz and Orr expect apple prices to also be up this year due to the other states’ smaller crops last year.

“The canneries won’t have a lot of inventory that’s leftover,” Orr said. “Their storage will be low, that should be beneficial to us as far as the prices for the next year.”

Shanholtz concurred.

“It will take a couple years to fill up the supply line,” he said. “I don’t expect prices to be as good, but hopefully it won’t go back to 5 cents a pound ever again.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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