North Carolina exported $3.1 billion worth of agricultural products in 2008, a 51 percent increase over the previous year, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler has announced.

It is the first time North Carolina ag exports have topped the $3 billion mark.

“Agricultural exports are important to North Carolina’s economy,” Troxler said. “They help boost farm prices and income and support more than 24,000 jobs, both on the farm and in industries such as food processing, storage and transportation.”

North Carolina’s agricultural export value ranked 13th among all states during the federal fiscal year covering Oct. 1, 2007, to Sept. 30, 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. North Carolina is the nation’s top tobacco exporter, and ranks third in poultry products and fifth in cotton and peanuts sold to other countries.

The state’s leading export commodities were tobacco ($573.6 million), animals and meat ($553.5 million), cotton and linters ($275.5 million) and peanuts ($23.5 million).

North Carolina’s top international customers were Japan, China, Canada, the Netherlands and Germany.

Peter Thornton, assistant director for international marketing at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said the increase in the value of North Carolina agricultural exports can be attributed to several factors, including the increased value of farm products the past few years, and the emergence of China and other international markets that import food from the United States.

“As developing countries get richer, the first thing they are going to do is eat better, which offers us more export opportunities,” Thornton said.