Rice still rules the roost in the biggest Sutter County crops, but a hard-shelled product took advantage of great reviews among nutrition experts and increasing global popularity to finish second in 2011.

The total value of walnuts rose to $144.6 million last year, up from $71 million in 2010 and leaving it about $34 million behind rice, which took in $178.7 million last year, in the new crop report released Monday.

Mat Conant, whose family has farmed walnuts near Rio Oso since 1920, said one of the main reasons for the surge in crop value was walnuts' increasing reputation as a "super food."

"It's high protein, good oils, good source of dietary fat," Conant said.

Walnuts are also increasingly a global commodity, meaning demand is higher worldwide, which in turn translates to a higher price, he said.

For more, see: Rice, walnuts the biggest crops in Sutter County