LOS ANGELES — China's booming economy has spelled trouble for many U.S. farmers who have lost market share to low-cost Chinese imports.

LOS ANGELES — China's booming economy has spelled trouble for many U.S. farmers who have lost market share to low-cost Chinese imports.

But some California growers are cashing in on China's increasing wealth and growing hunger for table grapes, almonds and other high-quality fruits and nuts that don't grow as well in the Asian nation.

Such pricey commodities helped drive the value of U.S. agricultural exports to China from less than $1.9 billion in 2001 to nearly $6.7 billion last year.

"There's a big enough group of people there that don't want just the cheapest; they want high-quality stuff, and they're willing to pay more for it," said Daniel Sumner, who directs the University of California Agricultural Issues Center in Davis.

The bulk of U.S. crops being shipped to China are soybeans, grains and other commodities that the country buys from the Midwest to use as animal feed and process into noodles and other products. China also buys U.S. cotton to keep its textile mills humming.

But some of the pricier commodities that dominate California agriculture are also big hits in China.

Table grapes are California's best-selling food crop in China. The value of those exports hit $90 million in 2005, up from $80 million in 2001, according to the most recent statistics available from the California Department of Agriculture.

"Chinese grapes do not have the sugar in them," said Nick Dulcich, who has been going to China for 15 years to find buyers for the grapes his family grows in their Central Valley vineyard.

"What I can fight the Chinese with is with flavor, with sugar," he said.

State almond exports to China increased to $52 million in 2005 from $25 million in 2001, while raisin exports grew to $17 million from $4 million during the same period.

Beijing shopper Yang Ling said she preferred California produce over domestic goods. "I love them because they are more delicious and of better quality than homegrown ones, although they are more expensive," the 30-year-old Yang said at an upscale supermarket.

The California Agricultural Export Council has a representative in China to market California-grown raisins, figs, dates, prunes and chopped walnuts as alternatives to the sweetened bean paste that usually fills the cakes.

The success of California produce in China is helping counter losses by some U.S. growers to Chinese imports.

Since 2003, garlic production in California has decreased from 160 million pounds to 100 million pounds, while imports of garlic from China more than doubled, from about 55 million pounds to 138 million pounds.

U.S. apple growers — primarily in Washington, New York and California — also suffered when Chinese juice concentrate entered the U.S. market in the 1990s. The average price for juice apples fell from $153 a ton in 1995 to $55 a ton in 1998, forcing many companies out of the U.S. market.

In all, the value of Chinese agriculture exports to the United States grew from $816 million in 2001 to $2.3 billion in 2006. Garlic and apple juice, along with canned and bulk oranges and mushrooms, comprised the bulk of those products.

While China is suited for growing those crops, it lacks the necessary terrain for producing high-quality pistachios and other nuts, growers said.

It also lacks the sandy soil and Mediterranean climate to produce grapes that match the quality of California offerings.

Still, growers in China are experimenting with ways to match the quality of fruits and nuts grown in California in hopes of reclaiming some of the high-end market, both domestically and abroad.

"They will eventually most likely figure it out," California Pistachio Commission chairman Jim Zion said. "They have the potential to be a larger competitor. Just ask the garlic guys."

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Associated Press staffer Liu Li in Beijing contributed to this report.