State crops' production value sets record in 2005

YAKIMA - Despite a severe drought an d complaints of a labor shortage in 2005, Washington state farmers set records on the value of four major crops, and the overall value of Washington crops reached a new high, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The total value of Washington crops in 2005 was $6.41 billion, a 9 percent increase from the 2004 total values at a then-record $5.89 billion. The increase marks the fifth straight year the value of Washington crops grew.

Apples again topped the list with 19 percent of the total value of Washington farm products, increasing from $986 million in 2004 to $1.2 billion in 2005. The state is the nation's top apple producer, growing about half of the U.S. crop.

Milk, the second crop on the list, saw a slight decline of 3 percent last year to about $836 million. Rounding out the top five crops were cattle and calves at $601 million, potatoes at nearly $535 million and wheat at $456 million.

The overall increase was positive news at a time growers faced challenges of a drought and an ongoing labor shortage, said Valoria Loveland, director of the Washington state Department of Agriculture.

"I'm always happy when we do better this year than last year, and there's a lot of factors that go into that," she said, including weather, water availability, labor and marketing in a global market.

Tree fruit sales overall jumped dramatically. Cherries saw a 40 percent increase to $338 million, pears increased 12 percent to $143 million, and peaches grew 56 percent to nearly $12 million.

Cherries also topped the list at value per harvested acre, $11,535, which reflects both the yield and the price.

"It's not unanticipated that we would have some higher values for pears and cherries, where we have had good markets," Loveland said. "But hats off to apple growers for their marketing efforts, especially in a difficult year."

Jim Hazen, executive director of the Washington State Horticultural Association, tempered enthusiasm for the report with caution.

"I don't think the farm-gate value, the production value, necessarily reflects the value to growers," he said. "It doesn't take into account the extra costs that growers faced in 2005 because of the drought, such as higher fuel or power costs for pumping water."

For the first time in many years, fruit and nut crops surpassed field crops for the highest value of all commodity groups in 2005 with $1.89 billion, 26 percent higher than 2004. Field crops, such as wheat, hops and potatoes, recorded $1.77 billion, a 2 percent decline.

Livestock and livestock products logged $1.75 billion. Specialty products - forest products, Christmas trees, floriculture, nursery and other horticultural products and mushrooms - had a combined value of $544 million. Commercial vegetables had a combined value of $391 million, with berry crops rounding out the groups at $75.7 million.