West Virginia Tree Fruit Facts
   

 

The earliest development of a commercial fruit industry in West Virginia occurred in the Northern Panhandle. About 1800, John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) and his brother collected a large quantity of apple seeds near Pittsburgh and floated down the Ohio River in canoes to what is now Wellsburg, W. Va., where they planted several apple nurseries. As the nurseries developed, apple trees were distributed throughout the area. Apple production increased until there was a surplus above the needs for local markets, which resulted in the first commercial shipments of apples from Wellsburg down the Ohio to the Mississippi River to as far south as New Orleans on flat-boats in the early 1800s. Available records do not reveal the full extent of the apple industry in the Wellsburg area. However, it continued to prosper until about the time of the Civil War in the early 1860s, when all important shipments ended which was quickly followed by decreased production.

The Civil War proved to be a dominant factor in the history of the West Virginia fruit industry. Although it was largely responsible for the failure of the commercial fruit industry in the Northern Panhandle, it resulted in the beginning of the commercial fruit industry in the Eastern Panhandle. Mr. William S. Miller (considered by many to be the father of commercial orcharding in West Virginia) planted his first commercial orchard of 16 acres near Gerrardstown (Berkeley County) in 1851. When the Civil War began, Mr. Miller had an abundance of nursery stock on hand with no ready market. As a consequence, much of the stock was planted in his own orchard. The close of the war found him with some 4000 peach trees and several hundred apple trees coming into production. Fruit production expanded quite rapidly, spreading from a highly concentrated area in Berkeley County throughout the other Eastern Panhandle counties of Jefferson, Hampshire, Morgan and Mineral. By 1889, apple production had reached some 4.5 million bushels. Production has fluctuated from a low of less than 2 million bushels in 1921 to a peak of over 12 million bushels in 1931, averaging over 2.3 million bushels during the past 10 years (Table 1). Peach production has varied from a low of some 200,000 bushels in 1934 to a high of over 900,000 bushels in 1954, averaging over 231,000 bushels during the past 10 years (Table 1). Today, West Virginia ranks 11th in apple production and 13th or 14th in peach production in the U.S., with a combined crop value that has averaged over 12 million dollars over the past 10 years (Table 2). There are currently approximately 5,000 bearing acres of apples and 950 bearing acres of peaches.

West Virginia is the home of two commercial apple varieties. About 1805, the 'Grimes Golden' was discovered on the farm of Thomas Grimes at Fowlersville near Wellsburg. Tradition has it that the tree developed from a seed planted by Johnny Appleseed. The 'Grimes Golden' became a highly esteemed dessert apple and was commonly planted in both home gardens and commercial orchards until the early 1940s, when it was replaced by the more famous 'Golden Delicious', West Virginia's second horticultural contribution. The original 'Golden Delicious' tree, believed to be an offspring of the 'Grimes Golden', was discovered in 1912 by Anderson Mullins on a hill near Porter's Creek in Clay County. The tree was purchased by Stark Brothers' Nursery, who built a cage around the tree and employed Bewel Mullins, Anderson's nephew, to maintain and keep written and photographic records of the tree for 30 years. The 'Golden Delicious' was immediately acclaimed and soon became a leading cultivar in the U.S. and abroad, with many progeny of the original tree planted on every continent.



Table 1. Apple and peach production (bushels) in West Virginia, 1997-20131.

Year

Apple

Peach

Total

1997

2,738,095

229,167

2,967,262

1998

2,619,048

270,833

2,889,881

1999

3,333,333 270,833 3,604,166
2000 2,023,810 145,833 2,169,643
2001 2,500,000 229,167 2,729,167
2002 2,261,905 208,333 2,470,238

2003

2,071,429 260,417 2,331,846
2004 1,928,571 250,000 2,178,571
2005 2,071,429 229,167 2,300,596
2006 2,142,857 216,667 2,359,524
2007 1,904,762 190,476 2,095,238
2008 2,023,809 224,000 2,247,809

2009

1,952,381 212,000 2,164,381

2010

1,520,000 212,000 1,732,000
2011 1,600,000 228,000 1,828,000
2012 2,166,667 168,000 2,334,667
2013 Not available due to reduced funding Not available due to reduced funding  
2014      

Table 2. Apple and peach value ($) in West Virginia, 1997-20071.

Year

Apple

Peach

Total

1997

11,845,000

3,223,000

15,068,000

1998

10,010,000

3,432,000

13,442,000

1999 13,020,000 3,939,000 16,959,000
2000 8,075,000 1,792,000 9,867,000
2001 8,925,000 3,300,000 12,225,000
2002 8,075,000 3,100,000 11,175,000
2003 8,439,000 4,625,000 13,064,000
2004 7,371,000 2,868,000 10,239,000
2005 7,308,000 3,982,000 11,290,000
2006 7,560,000 3,005,600 10,565,600
2007 7,400,000 3,400,000 10,800,000

2008

11,618,000 3,245,702 14,863,702
2009 10,900,000 3,927,300 14.827,300
2010 8,800,000 4,625,000 13,425,000
2011 11,400,000 4,686,000 16,086,000
2012 23,193,000 5,330,000 28,523,000
2013 Not available due to reduced funding Not available due to reduced funding  
2014      

1West Virginia Agricultural Statistics Service annual reports.
2No significant commercial production due to frost.

Web Page Author: Alan R. Biggs
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