Monterey County’s agriculture industry earned a record $4.14 billion last year, buoyed by lettuce, strawberries and a 52 percent rise in wine grape production, according to a new county report.

Crop production in the county, nicknamed by local officials as the “salad bowl of the world,” rose 7 percent, or $285 million, in 2012 over 2011, the county reported.

The county’s 2102 crop report lists 10 crops grown there that produced more than $100 million in value, led by $794 million from leaf lettuce, $784 million from strawberries, $476 million from head lettuce and $316 million from broccoli.

“I think it shows the strength of the diversity of commodities produced in Monterey County,” county Agricultural Commissioner Eric Lauritzen said.

Within California’s $40 billion agriculture economy, Monterey’s industry is behind Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties but would rank in the middle of all American states in crop production, Lauritzen said.

“It’s really staggering when you think about how important it is,” Lauritzen said.

The total economic benefit from the county’s agriculture is about $9 billion when including things like cut lettuce for salads and wine made from grapes grown there, Lauritzen said.

As many as one in every five jobs in Monterey County, or about 20 percent, is tied to agriculture, Lauritzen said.

Production of wine grapes, grown mostly in the southern part of the county, increased by 52 percent last year, Lauritzen said.

Monterey exports much of its grapes to wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties for bottling.

Monterey is trying to become more of a wine destination itself by bottling more of its wine locally, he said.

Other crops grown in the county that made the top ten list for production in 2012 included celery ($193 million), spinach ($130 million) and cauliflower ($109 million).

Jeff Burbank, Bay City News

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