(June 9) SALINAS, Calif. — Strawberries surpassed head lettuce in 2005 as the second most valuable crop in California’s Monterey County.

Strawberry acreage in California has continually increased over the past few years, said Carolyn O’Donnell, public relations specialist for the California Strawberry Commission, Watsonville.

The county’s acreage and production should increase even more as people continue to eat more strawberries, she said.

According to the 2005 Monterey County Crop Report, released June 6 by the county’s Agricultural Commissioner’s Office, the top crop remains leaf lettuce, strawberries are second, and head lettuce fell to third.

The county’s total crop production value of $3.3 billion is up 11% over 2004, said Eric Lauritzen, agricultural commissioner, in a panel discussion with grower-shippers at the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California’s office in Salinas.

Though commodities like leaf lettuce, spinach, spring mix and strawberries were drivers for growth in 2005, crops such as asparagus and broccoli decreased in total production value, Lauritzen said.

Broccoli fell two spots from 2004 to 2005 — from fourth to sixth with a total value of $216 million. In 2005, the commodity was valued at $273 million.

The annual report reflects gross values, not individual growers’ net gains or losses, Lauritzen said.

Overall, Monterey County ranks fourth of California counties in agricultural crop value, he said.

Much of the growth is attributable to value-added products like bagged salads, he said.

This year, the report reallocated crop figures for cabbage, carrots, leaf lettuce and iceberg lettuce as individual commodities rather than salad products, which is why that category shows a drop in total value from $284 million in 2004 to $132 million in 2005, he said.

Of the county’s returns on crops, shipping and cooling costs represent the largest chunk at 57%, growing costs took up 36% and 4% are returned to growers as profits.

Though many commodities’ acreage has gone down, values have remained steady if not increased because of maximized yields through efficiency, said Mike Antle, vice president of harvesting for Tanimura & Antle Inc.

STRAWBERRY ACREAGE

In 2003, the county’s strawberry acreage was 8,472 and valued at $253 million. In 2004, the crop’s acreage grew to 8,807 acres and a total production value of $317 million.

Last year, strawberry acreage in Monterey County grew to 9,294 at a value of $390 million.

In 2003, the county shipped 212,000 tons of strawberries, in 2004, volume increased to 243,000 tons. Last year, strawberry volume shipped out of the county grew to 291,000 tons.