U.S. vegetable output remains flat but value is up due to robust domestic prices
U.S. production of all commercial vegetables and dry pulses (including mushrooms and potatoes) totaled 127 billion in 2015, a decline of less than half a percent from 2014. 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 expanding planting area of dry pulses. During this period, potatoes accounted for two-thirds of the production volume at 44 billion pounds, with tomatoes at 32 billion pounds, and lettuce at 8.1 billion pounds.
But production varied in the two main market segments within vegetables. In the fresh market, production was down 3 percent, mainly due to a decline in output in California, which has entered its fourth year of drought. But production of vegetables for the processing market (excluding potatoes and mushrooms) rose slightly to 38.8 billion pounds, up 1 percent from 2014.
Strong dollar and weak international demand put pressure on U.S. vegetable exports
The United States exported an estimated $6.8 billion in vegetables and pulses in 2015, down 3 percent from the previous year due to in part a strong dollar and weakening global demand. Exports to top foreign destinations—Canada, Mexico, and Japan—dropped 8 percent to $87 million. Exports to Mexico fell the most, to $1.9 billion, down 17 percent from 2014.
International markets have been an important outlet for U.S. vegetables and dry pulses for the last two decades. The share of vegetable and dry pulse exports in domestic supply expanded from 7 percent in 1995 to 13 percent in 2015, mainly due to an increase in dry 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 nearly $12 billion worth of vegetables and dry pulses, up nearly 4 percent from 2014. The increase was led by imports of processing vegetables, which rose by 8 percent in 2015 compared to 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 last year. Imports accounted for 24 percent of fresh vegetables and 20 percent of processed vegetables that were consumed by Americans in 2015. Similarly, in the dry-pulse market, 21 percent was supplied by imports.
Per capita use of vegetables declines
The decline in exports and increase in imports meant a modest increase in the U.S. domestic supply of vegetables and dry pulses in 2015. But that increase did not translate to higher domestic use due to increased stocks carryover for the next year. Per-capita use of vegetables and dry 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.