Net agricultural product grew to NIS 6.9 billion in 2005, as cheaper fodder helped slow the rising cost of agricultural inputs, the Central Bureau of Statistics said Thursday. "2005 was a better year than 2004, that's clear," said Israel Farmers Federation secretary-general Yusta Bleier. Cautioning that the bureau's calculations were based on preliminary estimates alone, Bleier said that he hoped the figures signal a return to growth in the sector, but added that the numbers released "do not indicate anything significant." Agricultural output grew 6 percent in 2005 to NIS 19.6b., while the cost of inputs rose 4.4% to NIS 12.7b., held down somewhat by an 8.8% drop in the price of fodder. Input costs rose 12.1% in 2004 and 9.9% in 2003. After paying the wages of workers, farmers kept NIS 3.4b. last year (before paying interest on production activities), 7.7% more than in 2004, the bureau said. Due to the cheaper fodder, the sector's growth was primarily concentrated in animal products, Bleier noted. Non-fowl animal product output grew 11.3% to NIS 4.3b., while poultry, turkey and egg output rose 3.2% to NIS. 3.4b., according to the CBS data. Fowl output has risen 11% over the past five years, with chickens still accounting for half. Commenting on the recent avian flu outbreak, Bleier said he believes that, based on losses to the industry thus far, foul output would not be affected in 2006. Vegetables and potatoes accounted for 23% of total agricultural output; greens and other field crops accounted for 7%; citrus fruits 5%; other fruits 14%; flowers and decorative plants 8%; cattle and other livestock 18%; fowl 17% and miscellaneous agricultural products 8%. Flowers and decorative plants output fell by 2.2%. Agricultural exports grew by 10.1% in 2005 to, slower than the previous year's 31.8% surge, as the prices paid on exported produce slipped 1.7%. Citrus exports jumped 28%, primarily due to a shortage of citrus fruits in the United States caused by last year's hurricanes. While date exports grew by 26%, the amount of pomegranates exported more than tripled - to 1,400 tons in 2005 from 400 tons in 2004 - due to a rise in the amount of land used for growing the fifth of the Seven Species.