Washington agriculture yields $10 billion behind record values for milk, other products

Washington agriculture brought in a record $10.2 billion in 2013, thanks to record-high crop values for milk, potatoes, cattle, grapes and pears, according to data released Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It was the third consecutive year crop values yielded a record haul.

The value of the milk produced by the state’s dairy cows went up by 12 percent to $1.3 billion, causing milk to outperform wheat and become the state’s second-most valuable agricultural product in 2013. Apples kept their position as Washington’s top crop. Wheat dropped by 13 percent to $1 billion.

Some of the dairy industry’s success can be attributed to higher prices in recent years because of global demand for dairy products, said Steve Rowe, senior vice president of corporate affairs and general counsel for Northwest Dairy Association, the farmer co-op that owns Darigold.

“It’s really proof that U.S. dairy and Darigold in particular is tied to the global demand for dairy and dairy proteins,” he said.

Darigold exports about 40 percent of its milk solids to about 30 countries, many in the Pacific Rim, Rowe said. The milk is dried into a dairy protein powder and is then used as an ingredient to add protein to products such as baked goods. Some cheese also is exported.

The state’s dairy cows produced the most milk ever, about 6.4 billion pounds in 2013. The population of Washington dairy cows has gradually increased during the past decade, and so has the average amount of milk each cow produces.

Whatcom County ranked second, behind Yakima County, in milk production in 2014, according to USDA.

However, the value of milk for dairy farmers is beginning to drop dramatically, Rowe said. Farmers began producing more milk to take advantage of higher prices, but demand hasn’t grown at the same rate.

Whatcom County’s top berry crops, raspberries and blueberries, also had a strong 2013. Across Washington state 68.1 million pounds raspberries were harvested, representing 92.7 percent of the U.S. crop. For blueberries, 81.6 million pounds were harvested in 2013 in Washington, ranking third highest among U.S. states. The Washington blueberry crop represents 15.4 percent of the U.S. total in 2013.

Washington remains the top state in the nation for the production of red raspberries, hops, spearmint and peppermint oils, wrinkled seed peas, apples, Concord grapes, sweet cherries, pears, and green peas and carrots for processing, according to the USDA. The state ranks second for potatoes, nectarines, apricots and all grapes.