Monterey County breaks fruit, vegetable recordSALINAS, Calif. — Monterey County crop values hit a record $4.14 billion in 2012, led by leaf lettuce at about $794 million.

“We have 10 crops that exceed $100 million in production value, and 27 crops that exceed $10 million,” Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner Eric Lauritzen said as he released the annual crop report in Salinas.

It’s the third time that gross value passed the $4 billion mark. The prior record was set in 2009. The figures include nursery, livestock and other categories.

The top 10 crop categories in Monterey are:

  • Leaf lettuce, $794.2 million
  • Strawberries, $784.8 million
  • Head lettuce, $476.4 million
  • Broccoli, $316.5 million
  • Nursery, $307.5 million
  • Wine grapes, $214.3 million
  • Celery, $193.2 million
  • Spinach, $130.7 million
  • Miscellaneous vegetables, $117 million
  • Cauliflower, $110 million

Leaf lettuce has for many years outpaced head lettuce in the Salinas Valley.

“Even though we’re no. 2, it’s mostly in the northern part of the county where you’ll find strawberries,” said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director for the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission. “It says how productive this place is for strawberries. When you look at California growing 88% of U.S. strawberries, about 43% of that 88 comes from this area.”

Part of the credit, O’Donnell said, goes to the Monterey variety, which produces more berries per plant — 5 pounds of fruit each at more than 10,000 plants per acre.

“It confirms a trend, as public and private support and education drive people to darker green leafy vegetables,” Mark Borman, president of Taylor Farms California, said of agriculture’s growth here. “We’re seeing that trend at Taylor Farms as well. As an industry we’re showing our preparation to be aligned well with that and be able to continue to service the needs of a changing appetite.”

Lauritzen said the return of spinach to the top 10 marked a continuing comeback for the crop. Value jumped from $88.9 million the year before to $130.7 million.

“It has still not achieved the pre-2006 E. coli outbreak level, which was about $180 million,” Lauritzen said. “But it is back in the top 10 and I think that’s real significant to show recovery, but also the importance of spinach as part of a healthy diet.

“California produces about 75% of the nation’s spinach, and Monterey County does about 50% of that,” he said.

“It’s truly a unique agricultural community that has the infrastructure to change with the trends and become experts at changing crops, as we hit a snag in 2006 with spinach,” Borman said. “You can see us bouncing back with better, stronger products as well as creating other products that are going to get young people excited.”

This year’s Monterey County crop report theme is salad bars in schools.

Margaret D’Arrigo-Martin, vice president of community development at Taylor Farms, said the Grower-Shipper Association Foundation has funded more than 25 salad bars for county schools.

“A year ago when we set out to fund salad bars for the schools, we knew it was our job as an industry to step forward and make sure kids have greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said. “We’re hoping to get a grant to fund another 75 salad bars over the next three years in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties.”