- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

KENNEWICK, Wash. (AP) - The state’s top agricultural commodities - including apples, milk and wheat - were worth $4.5 billion to farmers, according to a recently released federal report.

Several of the state’s most valuable crops saw gains in the U. S. Department of Agriculture review, and wine production became a larger player the industry, the Tri-City Herald reported.

Apples, the state’s most valuable crop, were worth nearly 12 percent less in 2013 because of a record crop and higher prices the previous year.

Bud Hover, director of the state Department of Agriculture, said apples may have peaked again in 2014. Farmers picked a record 150 million 40-pound boxes of apples last year and started exporting Red and Golden Delicious apples to China.

Starting this month, China is expected to accept all Washington apple varieties.

The future of the wine industry also appears bright, Hover said.

Washington wines are performing well in competitions, and there is a growing demand for the state’s wine, including exports. “We grow such high quality fruit for wine making,” he said.

The state’s wine grapes have seen steady increases in recent years, and the 2013 crop value grew more than 19 percent to $233.1 million.

The state’s wine industry is expected to continue to grow because growers have added and expanded vineyards, and it takes several years for new vines to mature and produce a full crop.

The state’s blueberries hit records in acreage and yield during 2013. However, the value of blueberries dropped to about $71.6 million, according to the data. That’s a 16 percent cut from the previous year. Washington farmers picked about 9,000 acres of blueberries in 2013. In all, about 81.6 million pounds of blueberries were harvested.

Hops also have become more prominent with the rise of microbreweries, which tend to use more hops for brewing. Hover said he expected that demand to continue to climb. Hops were worth $184.9 million in 2013, a 28 percent jump from the previous year.

Dairy edged out wheat to become the state’s second most valuable agricultural commodity in 2013. Milk was worth about $1.3 billion that year, a 12 percent increase.

The population of Washington dairy cows has gradually increased during the past decade, and so has the average amount of milk each cow produces.

Other top state crops, such as beef, potatoes and hay, did well in 2013 even if they did not set records.

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Information from: Tri-City Herald, https://www.tri-cityherald.com

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