SALEM — In a record-breaking year, cattle and calves became the most valuable agricultural commodity in Oregon, ending a 20-year reign in the top spot by greenhouse and nursery products.
The production value of beef jumped to $922 million in 2014 from $669 million in 2013, a 38 percent increase, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The value of Oregon nursery products was up 11 percent, from $754 million in 2013 to $830 million last year.
Cattle last ranked No. 1 in Oregon in 1994.
“In agriculture things go up and down, but beef producers have seen good returns this year,” Oregon Beef Council executive director Will Wise said.
Wise said many factors — from the millennial generation’s fascination with the “paleo” diet to improved market access abroad — helped spur the increase. Thanks to a lobbying effort funded in part by the Beef Council, Japan dropped an onerous regulation in 2013 prohibiting the import of cattle slaughtered after 20 months of age.
According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, beef exports now add $350 of value per head to cattle. That statistic was pegged at just $109 per animal in 2009.
This year’s NASS statistics contained other surprises, too. Wine grapes, valued at $118 million in 2014, joined the top 10 list, passing onions.
Onions, Christmas trees and blueberries all topped $100 million in production value, but didn’t make the top 10.
There are now 34,600 farms in Oregon, a slight dip, with an average size of 474 acres.
On the top 10 list, only wheat and potatoes decreased in value. Wheat’s value dropped 18 percent, from $368 million to $302 million in 2014. Potatoes lost about $6 million in value, from $170 million in 2013 to $164 million last year.
Kathryn Walker, a special assistant to the ODA director, said in a press release that Oregon’s severe drought could negatively affect the value of agricultural commodities this year.
However, she cautioned that it was still too soon to say.
“We are going to have to watch to see how the weather impacts our producers and the yields of their commodities,” Walker said. “But our agriculture industry is resilient. They have faced these kinds of challenges before and typically bounce back.”
All told, Oregon’s farmers and ranchers added $5.4 billion to the state economy. Oregon farmers produce 17 commodities each valued at $50 million or more, and 220 crops overall.