CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Last year was a good year to be a West Virginia apple farmer.
Good local weather and damaged crops in other states helped boost both prices and production for Eastern Panhandle fruit growers in 2012.
"Last year, business-wise, was the best year we've ever had," said Mark Orr, co-owner of George S. Orr & Sons Inc. orchard in Martinsburg.
Orr, a second-generation farmer who runs the 58-year-old, family-owned 600-acre orchard with his brother, Mike, said Eastern Panhandle orchards were well positioned last year for a record season.
"Maybe once out of 20 years you're the one with the good crop at the good price," Orr said.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, West Virginia's apple production was up 36 percent last year. State growers harvested 91 million pounds of apples in 2012, up 24 million pounds from 2011.
That was a sharp contrast to the national trend, which saw a 4 percent decline in total U.S. apple production. It also came in spite of West Virginia farmers having 900 fewer acres devoted to the fruit last year.
Orr said some of the increase was due to the natural growing cycle for apples.
He said apples tend to grow in two-year cycles. They will often have a strong growing season one year followed by a smaller crop the next year.
"In 2011 we had a short crop, so naturally, without any frost damage, and under normal weather conditions, we were set to have a good crop (in 2012)," Orr said.
He said the warm winter in early 2012 helped the trees bloom early, accelerating the growing season.
The result was a record crop for the year.
"We had the largest crop we've ever had," Orr said. "We had 517,000 bushels. The best year we'd had before that was something like 430,000."
And quantity wasn't the only thing up in 2012. Prices shot up too.
Early in the season, growers in Michigan, New York and North Carolina all enjoyed the early blooming period caused by the warmer winter.
However, a late cold snap pushed overnight temperatures to the low 20s in those states, damaging the crop from the rest of the growing season.