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The production of five popular vegetables relies on foreign labor

Monday, June 29, 2020

In 2019, tomatoes for the fresh market, harvested by hand, were valued at $705 million, while sweet corn production, typically harvested by hand or machine, was valued at $652 million, and sweet potatoes, for which workers are required for machine operation and post-harvest handling, was valued at $588 million. The production of these and other vegetables grown in the United States may be affected by disruptions of foreign labor flows. An estimated 10 percent of all hired farm workers are foreign nationals employed on temporary work visas under the H-2A agricultural workers program. Restrictions that affected the issuance of new H-2A visas at U.S. consulates starting March 18, 2020, were relaxed on April 20, 2020, which may have alleviated shortages of available workers. H-2A application disclosure data through the second quarter of fiscal year 2020 revealed that a significant majority of the H-2A workers with job start dates of mid-March or later had been hired as laborers for asparagus, sweet potatoes, sweet corn, cucumbers, and tomatoes. These five vegetable commodities, therefore, are among those most likely to be affected by a short-term reduction in the inflow of H-2A workers. Together, these vegetables accounted for 12 percent of the total production value of U.S. vegetables in 2019. This chart is based on the Economic Research Service’s Vegetables and Pulses Outlook reports and H-2A application disclosure data from the Department of Labor.

Americans obtained just over one-third of their vegetables in away-from-home eating places in 2007-08

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

COVID-19-related stay-at-home orders have shifted the places where consumers obtain a large share of their meals and snacks. Foods bought in grocery stores have replaced meals and snacks previously eaten in restaurants, college dining halls, school cafeterias, sports venues, and other eating-out places. Results from a 2016 Economic Research Service (ERS) study indicate this shift in where Americans obtain their foods is likely to affect the marketing and consumption of specific vegetables differently, depending on what share of a vegetable’s total consumption is obtained in away-from-home eating places and whether that share has changed over the last decade. In 2007-08 (the latest food-intake survey used in the 2016 study), Americans obtained 36.6 percent of their vegetables away from home. Lettuce and potatoes had the highest away-from-home shares at 47.2 and 45.6 percent, respectively. Green peas and sweet corn had the lowest away-from-home shares of the vegetables examined—just 20 percent of these vegetables were obtained at away-from-home eating places in 2007-08. ERS researchers used national survey data on foods eaten and where they were acquired to disaggregate 63 commodities in ERS’s Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data system into two broad categories: food at home (foods obtained at grocery stores, supercenters, and other retailers) and food away from home (foods obtained at away-from-home eating places). ERS’s loss-adjusted food availability data take per capita supplies of food commodities in all forms—fresh, canned, frozen, and dried—available for human consumption. The data adjust for some of the spoilage, plate waste, and other losses in grocery stores, restaurants, and homes. The data in this chart appear in the 2016 ERS report, U.S. Food Commodity Availability by Food Source, 1994-2008.

May is National Salsa Month: Common salsa vegetables remain popular

Friday, May 29, 2020

Demand for salsa, in its many forms, has grown steadily for decades in the United States, and now has taken a place among the top selling condiments along with such stalwarts as ketchup and mayonnaise. Research has shown that the demand for Hispanic cuisines along with rising incomes form the core of salsa demand as consumers find favor with various Mexican-style restaurants and grocery store entrees. In the United States, salsa is commonly regarded as a red, tomato-based sauce that can include almost any vegetable or fruit, the most popular of which are onions, peppers, and garlic. In 2019, per capita supplies of tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, chili peppers, and garlic available for Americans to eat totaled 129 pounds—some of which ended up in salsa. Although the per capita availability of tomatoes for processing (65 pounds) triples that of fresh-market tomatoes, the per capita availability of fresh-market tomatoes has steadily risen since 2000 to 20 pounds in 2019. Year-round supply of fresh tomatoes in grocery aisles is satisfied by domestic field-grown tomatoes, the expansion of imports, and the rising availability of greenhouse-grown tomatoes. Per capita availability of bell peppers and chili peppers has also grown modestly over the last two decades in the United States. This chart is drawn from the Economic Research Service Vegetables and Pulses Outlook, published in April 2020.

USDA agencies funded $287.7 million towards 213 research projects on automation or mechanization in specialty crops, 2008-2018

Friday, February 14, 2020

At $64.7 billion, specialty crops comprised one-third of U.S. crop receipts and one-sixth of receipts for all agricultural products in 2017. Many specialty crops are labor-intensive in production, harvesting, or processing. For example, harvest often requires workers to accurately distinguish ripe and unripe fruits and vegetables and gently pick, sort, or package the fruit or vegetable by hand without damage. A long-term decline in the supply of farm labor in the U.S. has encouraged producers to select less labor-intensive crops, invest in labor-saving technologies, and develop strategies to increase labor productivity. A number of USDA programs support the development and use of automation or mechanization in the production and processing of U.S. specialty crops. From 2008-2018 these programs in the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) funded $287.7 million toward 213 projects to develop and enhance the use of automation or mechanization in specialty crop production and processing. Projects covered a broad spectrum of technologies, including job aid and machinery automation; machine learning and data analysis; mechanical harvesting and processing; precision agriculture; remote sensing and drones; and sensors. Each of the USDA programs are designed differently to achieve unique objectives, although each program addresses the development and use of automation or mechanization in specialty crops in some form. The data in this chart are available in the February 2020 ERS report, Developing Automation and Mechanization for Specialty Crops: A Review of U.S. Department of Agriculture Programs.

Volatility in market prices for fruit and vegetables helps drive food loss during production and distribution

Monday, February 3, 2020

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that annually, over $161 billion of food at the retail and consumer stage of the supply chain goes uneaten. Food loss also occurs on farms and in the pre-retail distribution channels—the Food and Agricultural Organization estimated 30 percent of losses in fruits and vegetables occur in these earlier stages. USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) recently examined the substantial role that expected costs, revenues, and risks play in food loss at the pre-retail level. Factors influencing food loss include price volatility: for example, vegetables have exhibited a relative variation in price more than 20 times that of grains used for feed. When prices fall below the cost of production, it becomes unprofitable for growers to advance produce through the supply chain. Alternatively, when prices rise, growers harvest more intensively, and may have the incentive to send lower-cosmetic-quality product to market, which can then be subject to increased loss further down the supply chain. Other economic factors that influence the level of food loss include labor cost and availability, availability of cold-chain infrastructure, aesthetic standards, consumer preferences, contract requirements, and policies related to the harvest and marketing of fresh produce. This chart appears in the recent ERS report, Economic Drivers of Food Loss at the Farm and Pre-Retail Sectors: A Look at the Produce Supply Chain in the United States.

ICYMI... Food safety actions by the produce industry and commercial buyers have moved food safety practices forward

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The produce industry and commercial buyers (retailers, foodservice buyers, and produce processors) have been instrumental in pushing food safety practices forward. Retailers strive to ensure food safety while not having direct control over production practices. Many retail companies have turned to indirect means, using third-party audits, to make certain that the produce they buy is grown following certain food safety practices. In 1999, Safeway became the first U.S. grocery chain to require audits from its suppliers of “high risk” fresh produce. Many other retailers followed. Marketing orders—standards initiated by producers—began to emerge later as a means for specific commodity groups to provide assurance of safe practices to industry buyers and consumers. The California leafy greens industry in 2007 initiated the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA)—a voluntary program that requires participants to implement mandatory food safety practices, which include third-party audits—and many others followed. Retailer food safety requirements have shaped the current food safety landscape and will determine the extent to which the Food Safety Modernization Act’s recently implemented “Produce Rule” affects growers. This information grew out of ERS research, including the 2007 Amber Waves article, “Outbreak Linked to Spinach Forces Reassessment of Food Safety Practices.” This chart appears in the ERS report, “Food Safety Requirements for Produce Growers: Retailer Demands and the Food Safety Modernization Act,” released in April 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published April 4, 2019.

Most U.S. pumpkins are produced in 10 states

Monday, October 21, 2019

With Halloween approaching, many consumers spent the weekend searching for the nearest pumpkin patch. Pumpkin production is widely dispersed throughout the United States. All U.S. States produce some pumpkins, but according to the 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture, about 62 percent of pumpkin acres were grown in only ten States. Illinois is consistently the Nation’s largest producer of pumpkins, the majority of which are used for pies and other processed foods. Pumpkin production from the other States surveyed annually by USDA is primarily destined for decorative (or carving) use. While 2019 production has not yet been surveyed, early feedback indicates an average year for Illinois and California with a healthy crop. Pumpkin growers in a few states have reported some challenges: Ohio faced a wet spring which made planting a challenge while Pennsylvania growers report extended periods of hot weather during the summer, which reduced the pollination of pumpkin flowers. Retail prices for pumpkins typically fluctuate from week to week leading up to Halloween. At the end of the first week of October, average retail price for jack-o-lantern style pumpkins was $3.42 per pumpkin compared to $3.32 for the same week in 2018. This chart is based on data appearing in the ERS Pumpkins: Background & Statistics topic page updated in September 2019.

ICYMI... Greenhouse tomato production spans most U.S. States

Thursday, October 3, 2019

While Florida and California accounted for 76 percent of U.S. production of field-grown tomatoes in 2016, greenhouse production and use of other protected-culture technologies help extend the growing season and make production feasible in a wider variety of geographic locations. Some greenhouse production is clustered in traditional field-grown-tomato-producing States like California. However, high concentrations of greenhouses are also located in Nebraska, Minnesota, New York, and other States that are not traditional market leaders. Among the benefits that greenhouse tomato producers can realize are greater market access both in the off-season and in northern retail produce markets, better product consistency, and improved yields. These benefits make greenhouse tomato production an increasingly attractive alternative to field production despite higher production costs. In addition to domestic production, a significant share of U.S. consumption of greenhouse tomatoes is satisfied by imports. In 2004, U.S., Mexican, and Canadian growers each contributed about 300 million pounds of greenhouse tomatoes annually to the U.S. fresh tomato market. Since then, Mexico’s share of the greenhouse tomato market has grown sharply, accounting for almost 84 percent (1.8 billion pounds) of the greenhouse volume coming into the U.S. market. This chart appears in the ERS report “Unpacking the Growth in Per Capita Availability of Fresh Market Tomatoes,” released in March 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published March 8, 2019.

Romaine and leaf lettuces almost as popular as head lettuce

Friday, June 21, 2019

In 2017, 13.2 pounds per person of fresh head lettuce (iceberg, butter, Boston, and Bibb lettuces) were available for domestic consumption, according to ERS’s Food Availability data. Fresh head lettuce has declined 54 percent from its high of 28.6 pounds per person in 1989. In contrast, availability of romaine and leaf lettuces (such as red and green leaf lettuces) increased, reaching 12.5 pounds per person in 2017 from 3.3 pounds per person in 1985 and almost equaling head lettuce. The growing popularity of prepackaged, ready-to-eat salad greens contributed to the rise in availability of romaine and leaf lettuces. ERS annually calculates national supplies available for domestic consumption by summing domestic production, beginning inventories, and imports and then subtracting exports and ending inventories. Per capita estimates are calculated by dividing these national supplies by the U.S. population. The data for this chart come from the Food Availability data series in ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.

U.S. sweet potato production declined 23 percent in 2018 due to Hurricane Florence

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Following a record-high sweet potato production year in 2017, Hurricane Florence slammed into North Carolina’s sweet potato growing region in September 2018, contributing to the largest single-year U.S. production fall in 48 years. 2018 U.S. sweet potato production fell 23 percent to 2.7 billion pounds, a decrease of more than 800 million pounds from 2017. Total sweet potato production was the lowest since 2013. During 2015–17, North Carolina averaged 54 percent of total U.S. sweet potato production, but fell to 40 percent in 2018 as the State’s production dipped to 11 billion pounds from 19.7 billion pounds in 2017. Other major reporting States, in order of production, include California, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Production was mostly flat for all of these States except for California, which increased its production by 19 percent to 7.8 billion pounds. The average price in 2018 for sweet potatoes reacted to the national decline in production and surged to $23.90 per hundredweight—the second-largest annual increase in 27 years and a tie for the second-highest price on record (in nominal terms). This chart appears in the ERS Vegetables and Pulses Outlook newsletter, released in May 2019.

Greenhouse-grown fresh-market tomato imports have risen steadily since 2000

Thursday, May 9, 2019

As the U.S. fresh-market tomato sector has evolved to provide an increasing volume and variety of globally sourced offerings, U.S. per capita availability of fresh-market tomatoes has steadily risen. Major factors shaping the fresh tomato market include growing numbers of imports, changing consumer demographics and tastes, and emerging production technologies. One illustration of the convergence of these drivers comes from the rising availability of greenhouse-grown tomatoes, which provide year-round access to more diverse tomato varieties than were previously available. Since 2014, greenhouse imports have made up approximately 55 percent of total fresh tomato imports into the United States. Prior to 2005, U.S., Mexican, and Canadian growers each contributed about 300 million pounds of greenhouse tomatoes annually to the U.S. fresh-tomato market. Since then, Mexico’s share of the greenhouse tomato market has grown sharply, averaging 35 percent annual growth, in parallel with expanding shipments of field-grown fresh tomatoes from Mexico to the United States. In 2017, imports from Mexico accounted for almost 84 percent (1.8 billion pounds) of the greenhouse-tomato volume coming into the U.S. market. Imports of Canadian greenhouse-grown tomatoes have remained at about 300 million pounds. This chart appears in the May 2019 ERS Amber Waves article, “Imported Greenhouse Tomatoes From Mexico Illustrate the Growing Diversity in Fresh-Market Tomatoes.”

Americans consumed almost 12 pounds of legumes per person in 2017

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Naturally gluten-free, high in fiber, and a good source of protein, Americans’ consumption of legumes (beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas) has trended upward in recent years, according to ERS’s Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data series (a proxy for consumption). U.S. consumption of legumes reached 11.7 pounds per person in 2017, up from 8.0 pounds per person in 2014. Rising demand by U.S. consumers for Tex-Mex dishes and food products like hummus drove the increase. From 1970–2017, the largest growth occurred in the consumption of black beans, increasing to 1 pound per capita, and peas and lentils, increasing to 4.7 pounds per capita—the highest consumption among all categories. Pinto beans experienced an uptick in 2017, climbing to 2.9 pounds per person. Despite falling slightly in 2017, consumption of other legumes (chickpeas, black eyed peas, small white, small red, pink, and other beans) has steadily risen, and has grown 63 percent over the past 47 years. However, not all legumes have grown in popularity. Lima bean consumption fell to 0.2 pound per person in 2017—a 74-percent decrease from 1970. Consumption of navy, great northern, and red kidney beans fell 58 percent during this time period as well. The data for this chart come from the Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data series in ERS’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.

U.S. growers are harvesting an increasing amount of organic tomatoes

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Fresh tomatoes have remained a staple in American kitchens even as consumer tastes and preferences evolve. For example, producers have responded to consumer demand for more organic produce by cultivating more organic tomatoes. From 2008 to 2011, consumer price sensitivity coupled with the higher price of organic produce (relative to conventional produce) contributed to the decline in both demand and production. During that time, organic tomato acreage fell approximately 32 percent to 6,000 acres in 2011. However, after 2011, organic tomato prices and harvest areas began to rebound, spurring production to grow by 50 percent from 2011 to 2015. From 2015 to 2016, acres harvested of organic tomatoes grew by another 39 percent to reach record levels—12,400 acres in 2016. Between January 2013 and January 2018, average advertised retail prices for round organic tomatoes (excluding Roma and cherry varieties) were $1.43 per pound—over 60 percent higher than their conventional counterparts at $0.89 per pound. This chart appears in the ERS Special Outlook Report, “Unpacking the Growth in Per Capita Availability of Fresh Market Tomatoes,” released in March 2019.

Greenhouse tomato production spans most U.S. States

Monday, March 18, 2019

Errata: On March 19, 2019, the legend of the Chart of Note “Greenhouse tomato production spans most U.S. States” was corrected so that the second lowest category is properly listed as “100,000 pounds to 500,000 pounds.”

While Florida and California accounted for 76 percent of U.S. production of field-grown tomatoes in 2016, greenhouse production and use of other protected-culture technologies help extend the growing season and make production feasible in a wider variety of geographic locations. Some greenhouse production is clustered in traditional field-grown-tomato-producing States like California. However, high concentrations of greenhouses are also located in Nebraska, Minnesota, New York, and other States that are not traditional market leaders. Among the benefits that greenhouse tomato producers can realize are greater market access both in the off-season and in northern retail produce markets, better product consistency, and improved yields. These benefits make greenhouse tomato production an increasingly attractive alternative to field production despite higher production costs. In addition to domestic production, a significant share of U.S. consumption of greenhouse tomatoes is satisfied by imports. In 2004, U.S., Mexican, and Canadian growers each contributed about 300 million pounds of greenhouse tomatoes annually to the U.S. fresh tomato market. Since then, Mexico’s share of the greenhouse tomato market has grown sharply, accounting for almost 84 percent (1.8 billion pounds) of the greenhouse volume coming into the U.S. market. This chart appears in the ERS report “Unpacking the Growth in Per Capita Availability of Fresh Market Tomatoes,” released in March 2019.

Illinois produces the largest share of processed pumpkin in the United States by a large margin

Friday, October 26, 2018

In advance of National Pumpkin Day on October 26 and Halloween on October 31, many Americans will have spent time searching for the perfect pumpkins for their jack-o’-lanterns. Although all U.S. States produce some pumpkins, the U.S. Census of Agriculture reports that six States contained about one-half of all pumpkin acres in 2012. Illinois has consistently been the Nation’s largest pumpkin producer, but most of Illinois’s pumpkins, nearly 80 percent, are processed for pie filling or other uses—compared to a little over 10 percent processed in Michigan. Fresh pumpkin supplies from most States are targeted toward the seasonal market for ornamental uses and home processing. Growers mainly produce jack-o'-lantern type pumpkins (like the Howden variety), but demand for specialty pumpkins (like White Howden, Blue, Cinderella, and Fairytale) continues to expand as consumers look for new and interesting varieties. Initial reports for 2018 pumpkin production indicate healthy crops in Illinois and California. However, some reports from Michigan indicate a challenging year for pumpkins due to early drought, recent downpours, and disease. This chart appears in the ERS Pumpkins: Background & Statistics topic page, updated in October 2018.

Vegetable costs range from 17 cents to $2.47 per cup equivalent

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

“Add More Vegetables to Your Day” and “Vary Your Veggies” are among USDA’s key messages about how Americans can achieve healthier diets. However, many Americans still consume an insufficient quantity and variety of vegetables. One reason may be a lingering perception that vegetables are expensive. To address this perception, ERS recently estimated average retail prices paid in 2016 for 92 fresh and processed vegetables (including legumes), measured in cup equivalents. A cup equivalent is the edible portion that will generally fit in a 1-cup measuring cup; 2 cups for lettuce and other raw leafy greens. ERS researchers found that iceberg lettuce, fresh whole carrots, canned green beans, and 13 other products cost less than 40 cents per cup equivalent, while 55 vegetables, including baby carrots, frozen mixed vegetables, and canned tomatoes, cost between 40 and 79 cents per cup equivalent. Fresh asparagus, at $2.47 per cup equivalent, is the priciest of these 92 vegetables, and dried pinto beans at $0.17 are the least expensive. The data in this chart are from ERS's Fruit and Vegetable Prices data product, updated July 11, 2018.

Farm share of retail price of head lettuce rose in 2017

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The farm share of the retail price of head lettuce—the ratio of what farmers received to what consumers paid per pound in grocery stores—was 38 percent in 2017, the highest farm share since the 1990s. In 2017, while the national, monthly average price of head lettuce at grocery stores fell 3 cents to $1.03 per pound, the monthly average price received by farmers rose 12 cents to $0.37 per pound. ERS’s calculation of the farm share for head lettuce takes into account loss that occurs in grocery stores from spoilage and trimming by assuming that farmers supply a little less than 1.1 pounds for each pound sold at retail. Farm prices for head lettuce were particularly high during the first half of 2017. Flooding in California, brought on by heavy rains early in the year, delayed the planting and harvesting of head lettuce. California accounts for close to three-fourths of head lettuce production. Reduced supplies of head lettuce pushed farm prices higher, but had only a short-lived impact on retail prices. This chart appears in “Monitoring Trends in Retail Prices and Farm Shares of Food Products” in the August 2018 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Production of romaine lettuce is growing

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The two top States for production of romaine lettuce are California and Arizona, with Arizona comprising about a quarter of total harvested acreage in recent years. Since 2010, Arizona’s harvested area of romaine lettuce has been growing steadily at about 7 percent annually. Over the same period, prices received by producers in Arizona have been somewhat higher, although more variable, than prices in California. Seasonally, the Arizona romaine crop is typically harvested from early November to late April and satisfies demand when the dominant California crop has not yet reached maturity for harvest. The recent outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 tied to romaine lettuce was reported at the end of the Arizona harvest season, so romaine lettuce is no longer being harvested and shipped from this region. Following the outbreak, average retail prices of romaine lettuce have declined somewhat compared to the same period a year ago, possibly reflecting curtailed demand. This chart is drawn from data discussed in the ERS Vegetables and Pulses Outlook released in April 2018.

Monthly U.S. dried garlic trade spiked temporarily in 2016/17

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

In late 2016 to early 2017, the amount of dried garlic imported to and exported from the United States rose above historical levels. The spike in U.S. garlic trade was precipitated by events in China, the world’s largest producer of garlic. Relatively low supply and high fresh garlic prices in 2016 incentivized Chinese farmers to increase production in 2017, ultimately leading to excess supply and a decline in global fresh garlic prices. This oversupply also impacted the market for dried garlic, viewed as a high value-added outlet for fresh garlic, and international prices for dried garlic fell as well. U.S. imports began to climb around May 2016 and peaked in January 2017 at approximately 98 million pounds. Before and during this period, China accounted for over 95 percent of all dried garlic imported into the United States. U.S. exports of dried garlic also rose during this period. Much of the growth in U.S. dried garlic shipments was to markets such as Peru, India, Portugal, and Greece, where U.S. exports were previously limited due to typically high competition from China. As global prices rose back to normal levels by mid-2017, U.S. dried garlic trade returned to historical levels. This chart appears in the ERS Vegetables and Pulses Outlook newsletter released in April 2018.

Americans consume nearly 3 pounds of fresh mushrooms per year

Monday, November 27, 2017

Over 97 percent of the mushrooms produced in the United States fall under the genus known as Agaricus, which includes the common White Button mushrooms, often seen in grocery stores and salad bars, as well as portobello and crimini mushrooms. While some mushrooms are grown for processing uses (canned, dried, and frozen), 88 percent are sold in the fresh market. On average, Americans consume roughly 3 pounds of fresh Agaricus mushrooms each year. Of the amount consumed, 87 percent is produced domestically in States like California and Pennsylvania. A growing share is imported, moving from 4 percent of domestic consumption in 2000 to 13 percent in 2017. Mushroom consumption increased each year since 2013, but fell slightly in 2017, with domestic production falling by just over 1 percent. Even with that decline, however, per capita consumption of Agaricus mushrooms increased by nearly 22 percent since 2010. Additionally, modest increases in wholesale prices since 2016 resulted in increased value to producers despite the reduced output. This chart appears in the ERS Vegetables and Pulses Outlook newsletter, released in October 2017.

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