Washington farmers broke their own records in six of the state's seven top agricultural commodities last year.
Record high production values were set for apples, milk, wheat, potatoes, hay and sweet cherries -- all crops grown in the Mid-Columbia -- according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The state's total value last year for commodities was $9.4 billion, 14 percent up from 2010's value of $8.25 billion, according to the USDA.
"Last year, Washington's farmers produced the most valuable harvest in the history of Washington," said Dan Newhouse, director of Washington's Department of Agriculture, in a news release.
"Our growers' hard work and innovative spirit continue to boost economic development all across the state," he said. "Agriculture remains a bright spot in our economy with stable employment and growing exports to the Pacific Rim. While we must be mindful of the rising costs of production and tension around the availability of skilled agricultural workers, I remain optimistic about the future of agriculture in Washington."
Most farmers experienced great growing conditions, strong yields and high prices last year, said Jason Kelly, communications director for the state Department of Agriculture. Agricultural exports also hit a record high last year.
Blueberries, although not among the top seven crops, saw the highest value per harvested acre in 2011, at $17,429. They saw an increase of 123 percent from the previous year, at a total value of $122 million.
That gain was enough to rocket the crop up from the 20th highest valued commodity in 2010 to 15th in 2011.
The top crops were:
w Apples remained the top commodity, with a value of $1.83 billion, a 19 percent growth from 2010.
New varieties, denser orchards and a growth in international demand for Washington apples have helped contribute to that increase, said Rebecca Lyons, international marketing director for the Washington Apple Commission.
Farmers are growing new varieties such as Honeycrisp that are popular with consumers, she said.
"It's not just Red Delicious anymore," Lyons said.
And while there aren't necessarily more acres, the density of orchards have increased, meaning more apples per acre, she said.
Washington is the top apple grower in the nation, representing about 60 percent of U.S. fresh apples.
Last year, Washington orchards produced 108 million boxes, the fourth most ever. A box is about 40 pounds. Benton and Franklin counties have more than 19,000 acres of apple orchards, according to the USDA.
About one-third of Washington's apple crop is shipped to more than 60 different countries, and the growth of exports has helped keep prices stable, Lyons said. Mexico now consumes about 9 percent of Washington's apple crop, and India is another growing market, she said.
"The outlook this year is very favorable," she said.
People are also more health conscious, with increased knowledge of the importance of fruits and vegetables, which is helping the produce industry overall, Lyons said.
w Milk, the state's second-most-valued commodity, saw a 34 percent gain in 2011 up to $1.28 billion.
The state ranks 10th nationwide in milk production, with 716 million gallons of milk produced last year. Washington's 460 dairies and their 263,000 dairy cows produce the second-most milk per cow in the nation. The average cow makes 2,753 gallons of milk a year.
The Yakima Valley is one of the largest dairy producing areas in the nation, according to the Washington State Dairy Products Commission. Benton, Franklin, Klickitat and Yakima counties have 91 dairies and more than 110,000 cows.
w Wheat's 2011 value of $1.14 billion showed a growth of 23 percent. Benton County has about 94,300 acres of wheat, while Franklin County has 76,900, according to the USDA. Washington farmers produce the fourth-most bushels of wheat in the nation.
w Potatoes, the state's fourth-highest-valued commodity, grew by 18 percent to $771 million.
Washington, the first to start harvesting potatoes, has the second-largest volume in the nation, growing about 21 percent of U.S. potatoes, behind Idaho, which produces about 28 percent, according to the Washington State Potato Commission.
Franklin County has about 33,000 acres, while Benton County grows about 27,000 acres of potatoes, according to the USDA.
w Hay, which was new to the state's top five, totaled $714 million, 40 percent more than 2010.
Washington has 780,000 acres of hay, with about 380,000 of them alfalfa. Last year, 3.4 million tons of hay were produced by Washington farmers. Statewide, about 35 percent of hay heads to such countries as Japan, Korea and China.
Benton County has about 14,000 acres of alfalfa and 5,000 acres of other types of hay, while Franklin County has about 84,000 acres of alfalfa and 31,000 acres of other types of hay.
w Sweet cherries also saw a 45 percent increase to $534 million, the state's seventh-highest-valued commodity, after cattle, which was valued at $592 million, up about 4 percent.
Cherries also had the second highest value per harvested acre, at $15,500, according to the USDA. Benton and Franklin counties have about 9,000 acres of sweet cherries.
Washington is the nation's top grower of sweet cherries and grows about 80 percent of the sweet cherries in the Northwest, which includes Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah, according to the Washington State Fruit Commission.