Discover Washington's Top 6 Most Valuable Crops
Amid the verdant expanses of Washington State, tales of tangible economic vitality reverberate. Not from scrums of tech hubs or animated beg-to-differs of cafes, but from the rhythmic rows of grape vines, the brambly blueberry fields, and the blush of cherry blossoms. It’s a story flavored with sensory delight, but rooted in ancient economic power. So what makes these agricultural things such compelling economic forces? For one, we can literally taste their salience. We co-evolved to find such crops undeniable. Here, we burrow deep into Washington’s top six invaluable crops, according to the USDA’s Value of Production index and beyond, and hopefully extract the unique elements that make them true treasures of the Evergreen State.
Washington State’s Agricultural Landscape
From misty coasts to arid plains, Washington State’s varied microclimates contribute significantly to both local and national economies.
While Washington’s scenic beauty and lifestyle attract a global audience, the spotlight here is on its often-overlooked but vital agricultural sector. Despite challenges like high living costs and traffic congestion (looking at you, Seattle), the state stands out for its fertile soil and innovative farming practices. The result is a range of valuable, high-quality crops.
In exploring Washington’s leading crops, we reveal a state that beautifully melds natural abundance with human innovation.
Geographic Features Like a Work of Art
Imagine a canvas painted with the lush hues of coastal rainforests, arid eastern plains, and snow-capped mountain ranges. That’s Washington State—a geographical marvel offering a range of microclimates that have turned it into an agricultural utopia. From the temperate climate of the Puget Sound to the drier, more extreme conditions of the Columbia Basin, Washington’s diverse geography creates pockets of opportunities for varied agricultural practices.
Now, envision this vast landscape as a masterpiece akin to Wassily Kandinsky’s Composition 8 (Komposition 8), where a complex layering of geometry, color, and line unspools against a blank white world. The painting’s vibrant circles, reminiscent of Washington’s apple orchards, burst with color and life. Intersecting lines can be seen as the state’s rivers and highways, the veins connecting its agricultural heartlands. Kandinsky’s checkerboard patterns seem to mirror Washington’s patchwork of vineyards and wheat fields—meticulously plotted yet harmoniously coexisting.
Of course, it’s 99.98% unlikely that Kandinsky had the esteemed crops of Washington State in mind when bringing Composition 8 (Komposition 8) to fruition. But it’s a helpful visual for thinking about the layers of significance that top crops bring to bear.
Geology and Soil Composition
Let’s dig a little deeper. Beneath the state’s evergreen surface lies a nutritious treasure trove of fertile soils, enriched by volcanic activity and glacial deposits over millennia. The state’s ground profile varies from loamy, nutrient-rich soils ideal for orchard fruits to sandy loam and silt loam soils, perfectly suited for grains and vegetables. These soil types not only bolster yield but also contribute to the unique flavor profiles that make Washington’s produce so sought-after. In fact, in much the same way states will declare a bird their official state bird, this unique soil, called Tokul soil, is Washington’s official state soil.
Significance to Crops
Now, let’s connect the dots. The unique geography of Washington coupled with its fertile soils formulates a winning recipe for agricultural abundance. For instance, the state’s cooler climates have earned its apples a reputation for being among the crispest and juiciest, while the sunny eastern plains are a haven for wheat and grape cultivation. This goldilocks microclimate fuels an important economic engine, shaping communities and livelihoods across the state.
According to the USDA, Washington State’s agricultural output contributes around $10.6 billion to its economy. The sector also creates employment for over 160,000 people, ranging from farmworkers to researchers. These stats accentuate the indispensable role agriculture plays in not just sustaining Washington’s populace, but also in enriching its economic landscape.
In essence, the lay of the land and what lies beneath it coalesce to form the backbone of Washington’s thriving agricultural sector. This unique concatenation of geography and soil drives a multibillion-dollar industry that’s integral to the state’s identity and prosperity.
Washington’s Most Valuable Crops: the Real Safe-Haven Currency
1. Grapes, Wonderful Grapes
Grapes, integral to Washington’s agricultural panorama, form the foundation of its illustrious wine sector. The state’s vineyards have yielded grape varieties that, in 2022, achieved an average price of $1,370 per ton, contributing significantly to the US economy.
What Makes It Unique: Navigating through market ebbs and flows, Washington’s grapes stand out due to their varied quality, diversity, and the unparalleled dedication of the local growers. The state’s grape production is characterized by its adaptive resilience to market fluctuations and its ability to uphold quality across different varieties.
Uses: Primarily, these grapes find their destiny in wine production. Washington’s wine industry, echoing through national and global avenues, churns out a striking economic contribution exceeding $9.5 billion in 2022, illuminating the grape’s pivotal role in both winemaking and economic sustenance.
2. Apples, A Safe-Haven Crop
In the vast macroeconomic landscape of Washington State, if crops were currencies, apples would be its equivalent to gold, a reliable, safe-haven currency alien to mood swings. Holding a prestigious position, Washington’s apple orchards provide a staggering 60% of the country’s apple yield. This is not just a testament to the state’s agricultural prowess but also its national significance. And just like a robust currency in global markets, the economic footprint of these apples? A staggering market cap of about $2.5 billion annually, solidifying its status as Washington’s premier agricultural asset.
What Makes It Unique
You might be wondering what sets Washington’s apples apart. The answer lies in variety and the state’s unique growing conditions. From the quintessential Red Delicious to the exotic Cosmic Crisp, Washington offers an apple for every palate. These varieties thrive thanks to the state’s unique climate—cool nights and sun-soaked days—a combination that accentuates the flavor, texture, and color of these fruity wonders.
As for what happens to these apples post-harvest, the journey is as diverse as the apple types themselves. Fresh off the tree, many find their way into grocery stores and fruit bowls nationwide. Others are processed into juices, sauces, and a myriad of baked goods. The state’s burgeoning craft cider industry also owes its existence to these premium apples, converting their sweet and tart flavors into liquid gold.
3. All Wheat, Alright
The Futures Market
In the economic tapestry of Washington’s agriculture, the golden fields of wheat are like the futures contracts, forecasting the state’s agricultural potential. Contributing to nearly 8% of Washington’s total agricultural revenue, wheat production is a testament to forward-thinking investments. Nationally, Washington confidently trades among the top 10 states in wheat production, solidifying its role as a forward contract in both local and national agricultural exchanges.
What Makes It Unique
Washington’s diverse climatic zones offer a wide array of growing conditions, enabling the production of both winter and spring wheat varieties. This flexibility allows for a comprehensive wheat market that caters to a variety of needs, from bread-making to animal feed. Soil conditions, particularly in the eastern part of the state, are notably rich in minerals and organic matter, enhancing both yield and quality.
Beyond the iconic image of amber fields, Washington’s wheat takes on several roles after harvest. Soft white wheat, a major variety grown in the state, is often exported to Asian markets for use in noodles and baked goods. Hard red wheat, on the other hand, frequently ends up in breads and is a staple in domestic consumption. Animal feed also incorporates a fair share of the state’s wheat production, rounding out its versatility.
The Liquid Asset
In the grand exchange of Washington’s agricultural portfolio, potatoes stand out as the state’s liquid asset, offering fluidity and solidity in equal measure. With a commanding contribution of $4.6 billion to the state’s coffers, potatoes not only diversify the state’s produce but also bolster its economic resilience. Further underlining their robustness, potatoes are responsible for seeding over 23,000 jobs. This root crop, with its deep economic tendrils, is a testament to Washington’s agricultural liquidity, both within state lines and on the national stage.
What Makes It Unique
What sets Washington’s potatoes apart is the state’s unique combination of volcanic soil and a relatively dry climate, resulting in less disease and higher-quality tubers. The state is renowned for its russet potatoes, but also cultivates a wide range of varieties including fingerlings and reds. Efficient irrigation systems further maximize yield, allowing for consistent and plentiful harvests.
While many may associate Washington’s potatoes primarily with classic russet fries, their utility extends much further. Apart from being a staple in American households, a significant portion is processed into products like chips, hash browns, and even vodka. Additionally, Washington is a major exporter of potatoes, particularly to markets in Asia and Canada, thus diversifying its economic footprint.
5. Blueberry King/Queen/Democratically Elected Head-of-Bush
Washington State has carved its name as the world’s topmost blueberry producer. The 2021 statistics boast a harvest of 180 million pounds, translating into a substantial economic value of $228.4 million.
What Makes It Unique
Beyond sheer volume, what distinguishes Washington’s blueberries is their superior quality, the state’s optimal climatic conditions for berry cultivation, and innovative farming techniques.
Besides gracing tables as a nutritious snack, blueberries bolster the state’s economy in significant ways. With highbush blueberry producers alone injecting a mighty $464.4 million into the economy, these berries serve dual roles as both delectable produce and economic catalysts.
6. Sweet Cherries of Fire
As the leading producer of sweet cherries in the US, Washington proudly presents a 2021 yield of over 13.2 million boxes, underpinning an estimated economic contribution between $130 and $180 million.
What Makes It Unique: Washington’s cherries are not just about quantity but also about unmatched quality. Blessed by the state’s favorable growing conditions, coupled with advanced cultivation techniques, these cherries have gained a reputation that’s hard to rival.
Uses: Apart from being a sought-after fruit in households and eateries, sweet cherries channel a consistent stream of revenue into Washington’s economy. Annually, cherries generate a commendable $400 million, solidifying their status as both culinary delights and formidable economic contributors.
(Shortcut to deeper source data list: here)
Climate Change and Its Impact
Climate change isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a reality with tangible impacts on Washington State’s agriculture. One of the most immediate effects is the spike in extreme heat events. Elevated temperatures can have a two-pronged impact. For crops, heat stress can diminish yields and affect quality. In apple orchards, for instance, excessive heat can result in sunburned fruits that are unmarketable. For livestock like cattle, extreme heat can cause heat stress, reducing meat quality and milk production, while increasing vulnerability to diseases.
Water is the lifeblood of agriculture, and any changes in its availability spell trouble for farmers. Increased temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns are likely to exacerbate water stress. Irrigation-dependent crops like apples and potatoes are particularly vulnerable. Water scarcity not only affects crop yield but also compels farmers to invest in water-efficient technologies, which could be economically challenging for small-scale farmers. Water supply impacts – Washington State Department of Ecology
As temperatures rise and precipitation patterns change, the state’s agricultural map could also be redrawn. Crops that once thrived in certain regions may become less viable, forcing farmers to either adapt or switch to alternative crops better suited to the new climatic conditions. For example, wheat varieties that are less heat-tolerant may need to be replaced, or entirely new agricultural products may need to be considered.
Pest and Disease Management
Warming temperatures provide a more hospitable environment for a range of pests and diseases. Apple growers may have to contend with an increase in molds and mildews, while potato farmers might face escalating issues with the Colorado potato beetle. Livestock are also more susceptible to diseases in warmer conditions, necessitating heightened biosecurity measures. Core concerns: Climate change presents challenging future for apple industry | The Spokesman-Review
From R&D to IT: Innovations and Solutions
In the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, the resilience and ingenuity of Washington State’s agricultural community shine through. This section illuminates some of the technological breakthroughs and community-led initiatives designed to secure a more sustainable future.
Technology & Research
Researchers and farmers alike are turning to technology to alleviate some of the pressing issues in agriculture. Take, for instance, Lav Khot’s work on infrared technology. Employed in apple orchards, this technology can identify problem areas in a crop field, allowing for targeted application of fertilizers and pesticides, thereby reducing waste and environmental impact. Similar advances are seen in water-efficient irrigation systems and soil-monitoring sensors, which help farmers optimize resource usage and improve yields. Khot – Precision Ag | Washington State University
Washington’s Proactive Approach to Climate Change in Agriculture
Washington State’s agriculture sector, recognizing the imperatives of climate change, has championed both state-level and community-centric initiatives to tackle the emerging challenges. These endeavors, ranging from policy directives to grassroots projects, signify a determined effort to not only adapt to environmental shifts but also to fortify the agricultural community against future uncertainties.
Central to Washington’s proactive approach is the Integrated Climate Response Strategy. This comprehensive blueprint mandates state agencies to embed adaptation in their planning, ensuring that information on climate change repercussions is readily available to decision-makers. The strategy underscores the need to bolster local and tribal governments, public and private institutions, and individuals, gearing them to confront and minimize climate vulnerabilities.
Research & Innovative Practices
Washington State University’s commitment to eco-conscious agriculture is evident through its initiatives:
The Climate Friendly Farming Project, initiated by the WSU Center for Sustaining Agriculture & Natural Resources in 2003, delves into innovative management and technological implementations to curb agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.
The Specialty Crop Climate Change Extension Academy is another endeavor by the university to capacitate professionals in the agricultural extension and USDA, focusing on enhancing climate preparedness especially for specialty crops. This initiative benefits from a generous $1.5 million grant from the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.
Ground-level community initiatives are indispensable in this climate combat:
The Northwest Climate Resilience Collaborative rolls out its Community Grants Program, directing funds to environmentally conscious, justice-centric climate projects that echo community resilience aspirations.
The state’s Department of Natural Resources takes community engagement a step further with its Climate Resilience & Community Science initiative. This program fosters a brigade of community scientists, empowering them to study, comprehend, and advocate for their local aquatic ecosystems. By mapping out the real-time effects of climate change, communities are better positioned to take decisive actions.
In essence, Washington State’s multifaceted initiatives, marrying policy with practice and research with community engagement, promise a more resilient and sustainable agricultural future in the face of climate change challenges.
(Shortcut to more on these initiatives: here)
Washington State’s top crops clue us into the roots of its economy. It’s clear that diverse crops like apples, milk, and wheat amplify its global stature. Clearly, these staples benefit from Washington’s unique geography, setting it apart in the agricultural arena.
However, issues like climate change, labor shortages, and sector-specific challenges introduce complexities. The state is responding by deploying innovative technology and community involvement to promote sustainable growth. In this way, Washington hopes to maintain its stature as an agricultural titan. After all, you know what they say: 14.68 million pounds of apples a day keeps the doldrums away.
|Crops||Economic Value (in Millions)||Unique Factors||Primary Uses|
|Grapes||$9,500 (wine industry)||– Quality and diversity of grapes|
– Adaptive resilience to market fluctuations
– Unparalleled dedication of growers
|Apples||$2,500||– Wide variety of apples|
– Unique growing conditions (cool nights and sun-soaked days)
– Flavor, texture, and color enhancements
|– Grocery stores and fruit bowls nationwide|
– Processed into juices, sauces, baked goods
– Craft cider industry
|Wheat||$757||– Ability to produce both winter and spring wheat varieties|
– Rich soil conditions, especially in the eastern state
|– Exported soft white wheat for noodles and baked goods in Asian markets|
– Hard red wheat for breads
– Animal feed
|Potatoes||$712||– Volcanic soil and a dry climate leading to less disease and higher-quality tubers|
– Efficient irrigation systems
– Wide range of potato varieties
|– American household staple|
– Processed into products like chips, hash browns, and vodka
– Exported to markets in Asia and Canada
|Blueberries||$464.4 (highbush producers)||– Superior quality of blueberries|
– Optimal climatic conditions for berry cultivation
– Innovative farming techniques
|– Nutritious snack|
– Economic contributions, with highbush blueberry producers alone adding a significant economic value
|Sweet Cherries||Between $130 and $180 (estimated)||– Leading producer status in the US|
– Favorable growing conditions and advanced cultivation techniques
– Unmatched quality
|– Sought-after fruit in households and eateries|
– Generates an annual revenue of around $400 million
Deeper Source Data
Most Valuable Crops:
- Washington’s 2021 Value of Production Report
- Washington Annual Statistical Bulletin 2022
- Washington’s 2022 Value of Production Report
- USDA Economic Research Service FAQs
- Washington Quick Stats Overview
- Washington Current News Release
- Washington 2017 Agricultural Market Value Rankings
- USDA ERS Report Database
- Washington Agriculture Overview
- Value of Washington’s 2021 Agricultural Production Report
- California Department of Food and Agriculture Statistics
- USDA ERS 2019 Report
Washington’s Proactive Approach to Climate Change in Agriculture:
- Climate Adaptation Resources for NW Agriculture
- NW Climate Resilience Community Grants
- Climate Friendly Farming Report
- Hazards, Resilience & Climate Change
- Climate and Health in Agriculture
- AAMT Volunteer
- WSU Climate Resilience Academy
- Sustainable Farms & Fields
- Georgetown Climate WA Overview
- DNR Climate Change
- Climate Friendly Farming News
- Climate Impacts & Adaptation
- NW Climate Resilience Collaborative
- Site-Specific Climate Friendly Farming
- Climate Friendly Farming Program
- Hazard Resilience & Climate Adaptation
- Innovative Agreement for Ecology WA
- Climate Change Impacts & Adaptation in WA
- Frontiers Climate Article
- Farmers Combat Climate Change in PNW