U.S. vegetable output remains flat but value is up due to robust domestic prices
U.S. production of all commercial vegetables and pulses (including mushrooms and potatoes) totaled 127 billion pounds in 2015, a decline of less than one percent from the previous year. However, the crop value at $20 billion was up nearly 6 percent due to strong domestic prices for most fresh-market vegetables. Harvested area for vegetables also increased slightly to 7 million acres, primarily driven by expanded planting area for dry pulses. In 2015, potatoes (44 billion pounds), tomatoes (32 billion pounds), and lettuce (8 billion pounds) accounted for two-thirds of total production volume.
Production varied in the two main market segments in 2015. In the fresh market, production was down 3 percent, mainly due to a decline in output in California, which entered its fourth year of drought in 2015. Production of vegetables for the processing market (excluding potatoes and mushrooms) rose slightly to 38.8 billion pounds, up 1 percent from 2014.
Data from the National Organic Producer Survey show organic production accounted for 8.4 percent of total U.S. vegetable acreage in 2014. For more information on organic vegetables production, see special article, “An Overview of Organic Vegetable Production in the United States.”
Strong dollar and weak international demand put pressure on U.S. vegetable exports
Strong dollar and weak international demand put pressure on U.S. vegetable exports in 2015
International markets have been an important outlet for U.S. vegetables and pulses for the last two decades. In 2015, the United States exported an estimated $6.8 billion in vegetables and pulses, down 2 percent from the previous year due to in part to a strong dollar and weakening global demand. Exports to top foreign destinations—Canada, Mexico, and Japan—dropped 3 percent to $4.2 billion. Exports to Japan fell the most, to $634 million, down 7 percent from 2014. Estimates based on year-to-date trade numbers indicate that vegetable export value will rebound in 2016.
The share of vegetable and pulse exports in domestic supply expanded from 7 percent in 1995 to 13 percent in 2015, mainly due to an increase in pulse exports. During this period, fresh-vegetable exports, as a share of supply, remained relatively steady at approximately 7 percent.
Imports increase led by processing vegetables
In 2015, the United States imported over $12 billion worth of vegetables and pulses, up nearly 4 percent from 2014. The increase was led by imports of fresh and processing vegetables (excluding potatoes and mushrooms), which rose by 4 and 6 percent, respectively, compared to 2014. Import value from Mexico, Canada, and China, which together accounted for 75 percent of total imports, increased 3 percent to almost $9 billion. Imports from China increased by the greatest percentage, to $832 million, up 14 percent from 2014.
In terms of volume, the share of vegetable imports has nearly tripled in the last two decades from 8 percent in 1995 to 22 percent in 2015.
Per capita use of vegetables declines
The decline in vegetable exports and increase in imports meant a modest increase in the U.S. domestic supply of vegetables and pulses for 2015, But that increase didn’t translate to higher domestic use due to increased stocks carryover for the following year. (“Use” is also called disappearance or availability. Food availability is a proxy for actual food consumption.) Per capita use of vegetables and pulses in the United States averaged 375 pounds in 2015, down 3 percent from 2014 and 12 percent from the peak of 425 pounds in 2000. Canning vegetables, particularly tomato products, accounted for most of the decline in domestic vegetable use in 2015.
ERS data suggest that, when total per-capita use is adjusted for losses (from farm to plate) and converted to daily cups, Americans consumed, on average, about 1.7 cups per day of vegetables and pulses in 2010-14—unchanged since 2005 and well below the Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommendation of 2.5 cups per day (based on the 2,000-calorie-per-day reference level).
In addition to recommendations for total vegetable consumption, the Guidelines encourage choosing a variety of vegetables, since some are richer in certain vitamins and minerals than others. Therefore, current recommendations are that consumers select from five vegetable subgroups several times per week in order to optimize nutrient intake (see chart below). Among the vegetable groups, consumption of red and orange vegetables was the furthest from the recommended amount, followed by dark-green vegetables.
Errata: On July 11, 2016, the following charts were reposted to correct errors in the data units: • The chart titled "U.S. vegetables and dry pulses, total supply and export share of supply” was reposted to correct the values so that they are reported as billion pounds. • The chart titled “U.S. vegetables and dry pulses, total domestic use and import share of use” was reposted to correct the values so that they are reported as billion pounds.