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Applesauce production to end in Inwood

August 08, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Applesauce production in the heart of West Virginia's commercial fruit industry will come to an end this fall in southern Berkeley County.

Knouse Foods Cooperative Inc. announced this week that it plans to shut down its applesauce production operation in Inwood, W.Va., Nov. 14, but will maintain warehousing, storage and distribution business there.

About 90 people work at the Inwood plant.

All employees whose positions are eliminated at the plant owned by the south-central Pennsylvania-based company will receive a severance package and assistance finding another job will be offered, according to a news release by the grower-owned cooperative based in Adams County, Pa.

President and CEO Ken Guise said the decision was a result of the continued decline of apple supplies from the area and need for major infrastructure improvements to facilities at the Inwood plant.

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"Housing developments now stand where orchards once were, and there's been a continuing decline in cases produced at the plant; a function of fewer apples received," Guise was quoted as saying in the news release.

Guise also reportedly told the plant's employees that the company's decision was difficult, especially when considering their "good and faithful service" to the company, with some working there for more than 50 years, according to the news release.

"While it is anticipated that some employees will elect to retire at the end of the production season, the company's intent is to offer remaining employees positions at Knouse production facilities (in) Pennsylvania," according to the release.

Guise said Knouse needed to be where their growers and apples are, according to the news release.

The company's director of human resources Scott Briggs did not immediately return a phone message Thursday.

From 1994 to 2004, Berkeley County has lost nearly 70,000 apple trees on about 3,000 acres, according to the 2004 West Virginia Orchard & Vineyard Survey compiled and published by West Virginia Agricultural Statistics.

Of the state's 4,258 apple-bearing acres in 2004, 2,697 were in Berkeley County, followed by Hampshire (530), Jefferson (488) and Morgan (351) counties. Ten years earlier, the state had 9,949 acres, according to the survey.

In the 10-year span, Jefferson County lost nearly 1,000 apple-bearing acres and Morgan County lost about 250 acres.

Since 2004, the number of apple-bearing acres statewide has remained about the same, according to West Virginia University Extension specialist Henry W. Hogmire Jr.

Hogmire, who works at the WVU Tree Fruit Research and Education Center in Kearneysville, W.Va., said he believed the Knouse Foods operation in Inwood is the last applesauce production facility in West Virginia.

Projections for this year's apple harvest were not available, but Hogmire expects the yield to be higher than the 80 million pounds produced last year.

"We've had an ideal growing season," Hogmire said.

The state's record apple harvest was in 1931, when 23 million bushels or an estimated 504 million pounds of apples were produced, Hogmire said.

Last year's apple crop was hurt by drought and had dropped by 11 percent from 2006, Hogmire said.

The state peach crop this year is projected to jump by 33 percent compared to last year, Hogmire said. In 2004, West Virginia's four most eastern counties accounted for 98.4 percent of the state's peach-bearing acreage.

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