Agriculture of the Valley

Homegrown Goodness Direct from the Farm

For a taste of the Wenatchee Valley’s bounty, look no further than the small farms and fruit stands that you see along the road. Take a scenic drive through our valley and enjoy the spectacular beauty of our farmlands; stop at one of our many roadside stands and savor the large variety of offerings.

Phone ahead to learn about crop availability; harvest dates can vary by as much as two weeks from year to year. Many farms sell to drop-in visitors even if there is no stand.

Chelan County is well-known for its tree fruit. The apple, pear, and cherry blossoms of spring and the summer and fall fruit stands are major attractions for residents and visitors alike. Orchards are prominent where irrigation water is available in the Columbia, Wenatchee, and Entiat river valleys and uplands and in the Lake Chelan area. In 2002, the total market value of agricultural products sold was more than $169 million, with almost $163.8 million (97 percent) from the sale of tree fruits (2002 Census of Agriculture).

The first commercial apple orchard in Chelan County was reportedly planted in 1884 (Luce, No date). The number of orchards significantly increased as irrigation ditches were dug and began providing water. Completion of the Highline Canal in 1904 resulted in the watering of 9,500 acres (Luce, No date). Over time, tree fruit (apples in particular) dominated the county’s agricultural industrial base (Chelan and Douglas County Profile, 2002). Chelan County now ranks first in the state for pear production, second for sweet cherries, and fourth for apples. The top crop items by acreage are: apples at 14,195 acres; pears at 11,134 acres; sweet cherries at 6,841 acres; all wheat for grain at 1,978 acres; and forage at 1,840 acres. The total value of all agricultural products sold ranks ninth in the state (2002 Census of Agriculture). More than 99 percent of the tree fruit crop is exported out of the county, with approximately 30 percent exported out of the country (Smith, 2004).

Chelan County apple growers were hit hard in the mid to late 1990s by changes in the national and international markets. The fall of the Southeast Asian economy, concern over pesticide use, a shift in consumer preference toward newer varieties of Red Delicious and other apples, and increased imports of apples and Chinese frozen apple concentrate are among these changes. Statewide, exports dropped 40 percent (Hurlburt, 2004). Following grower, warehousing, and processing consolidation, the industry is adapting to a changing market, although currently at lower returns. Many apple growers have switched to other varieties; others quit farming. Some acreage is converting to wine grapes. Wineries, orchards, fruit stands, vineyards, nurseries, (along with other retail businesses), and restaurants and lodging are becoming a successful part of a burgeoning agro-tourism.

As in other farming areas across Washington and the country, the amount of farmland in Chelan County has dropped over the last 45 years. 2002 Census of Agriculture figures show the number of acres of farmland in Chelan County peaked in 1959. The average size of a farm in Chelan County is 94 acres, and 69 percent of farms are 49 acres or less.