Production Declines Reduce U.S. Vegetable Availability Despite Import Growth and Lower Exports
Domestic fresh vegetable production fell 10 percent in 2018 from the previous year, while processed-vegetable production rose 7 percent from 2017 levels. Reduced planted area contributed to lower overall 2018 production, as above-average temperatures blanketed most vegetable growing areas during 2018, lowering yields of major vegetable crops.
Western areas were plagued with below-average precipitation in 2018 while Eastern crop areas experienced above-average rainfall. Drought-like conditions in California began early in 2018, but were alleviated after heavy March precipitation in the Sierra Nevada Mountains helped to boost the peak snowpack, which was well below normal levels. Despite increased snowpack, California reservoir levels were only slightly above normal for the year.
Area planted to dry beans (exclusive of chickpeas/garbanzo beans) fell slightly in 2018 but is expected to rise by about 16,000 acres in 2019. Acreage gains are largest in North Dakota (up 79,000 acres) and Michigan (up 5,000), where weak spring wheat and soybean prices likely encouraged increased dry bean plantings. Growers of chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) intend to sow 40 percent fewer acres in 2019 than in 2018. Planted area for 2019 is forecast at 519,000 acres, the lowest since 2016 when planted area totaled just 325,300 acres. The dramatic decline in chickpea sowings is attributable to a steep drop in chickpea prices for the 2018 crop.
Imports of U.S. vegetables reach a record while pulse exports see rapid decline
During 2018, a record 23.3 billion pounds of total U.S. vegetables (excluding potatoes and mushrooms) were imported—the highest in 48 years— while 11.4 billion pounds of total vegetables were exported.
Export volumes fell for total vegetables but rose slightly for fresh vegetables in 2018, while import levels rose in both the fresh and processed markets. When only processed vegetables are considered, the slight increase in production and stronger imports helped boost per capita availability. Imports of all vegetables (excluding potatoes) so far in 2019 are below previous years’ benchmarks. Exports of fresh vegetables and potatoes seem poised to surpass 2018 levels, while exports of processed vegetables remain depressed.
In 2018, U.S. dry bean imports rose slightly, despite larger U.S. production. Imports of the major classes of beans were not up markedly year-to-year; rather, imports of minor classes—including black-eyed beans/peas, cranberry beans, and other beans—are the primary source of import gains. Dry bean exports for 2018 were down 15 percent from the previous year, based, in part, on generally higher prices. For 2019, U.S. dry bean exports are forecast to recover much of the ground lost in 2018 and rise to just over 1.05 billion pounds. Generally lower dry bean prices in 2019 are expected to aid in the recovery.
Domestic vegetable availability falls, driven by declining production
Per capita availability (previously called disappearance or use) of vegetables and pulses in the United States was 395 pounds in 2018, down less than 2 percent from 2017 but still above the 18-year downward-trend after peaking at 423 pounds in 2000. On average, fresh and processed vegetable per capita availability has declined slightly from the prior decade to 146 and 110 pounds per person, respectively. Despite the slight increase in total vegetable imports (led by frozen imports) and the decrease in vegetable exports (led by canned exports), domestic availability declined 1.3 percent in 2018, due in part to the drop in total U.S. domestic vegetable production. Fresh vegetable production accounted for the majority of the decrease in total domestic vegetable availability, pulled down largely by declining harvested area of many fresh-market crops.
All-dry-bean per capita availability (less chickpeas) for 2019 is projected at 5.9 pounds per person, down from an estimated 6.47 pounds in 2018. Reduced per capita availability is based on expectations of both greater 2019 export sales and a sizable vegetable carryout.
The availability data measure supplies of commodities moving through production and trade channels for domestic use. The data do not directly measure food intake, but serve as useful indicators for understanding trends over time. In addition, the data are not adjusted for spoilage and other losses. Thus, when used in this manner, the data provide an upper bound on the amount of food available for domestic use and consumption.