SPOKANE — The late cold temperatures of last winter had big consequences for apricots, dropping production by half.

B.J. Thurley, Washington State Fruit Commission president, said the state normally produces around 5,000 tons of apricots, but this season the yield was 2,500 tons.

That may not seem like a lot, but Washington accounts for 20% of apricot production in the United States.

Apricots bloom earlier than other tree fruit, Thurley explained. When frost came in February to the Yakima Valley and other apricot-growing areas in the state that rarely see temperatures dip below freezing that time of year, no other tree fruit had bloomed, leaving those crops unharmed.

Apricots produced in Washington are shipped all over the country, but rarely leave North America. The Washington Apricot Marketing Committee, of which Thurley is the business manager, said the fruit that did make it to market met U.S. Department of Agriculture grades and standards.

The marketing committee's budget is about $8,000. It comes from a small fee paid by farmers on each ton of apricots produced. As a result of the low yield, the USDA published an order to the Federal Register on Wednesday to increase the committee's assessment rate from $1 per ton to $2.86 per ton. The order has a 30-day comment period.

Ric Valicoff, owner of Valicoff Fruit Co., said his apricot yield was 350 tons this year, compared to 800 tons the year before. He attributes this drop to frost in early February. Though his company grows apricots in different areas, it has its biggest footprint in the Yakima Valley, where growers have around 75 acres of apricots, with 13 varieties.

"Some of them are a little more susceptible and it beat up on those pretty bad to where a couple of them were almost blanked out," Valicoff said. "We didn't even pick those blocks, we just walked away from them. It wouldn't be advantageous to go in and pick a few 'cots, the labor would eat you up alive."

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