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Fruit and tree nuts are an important part of a person's diet. The typical American consumes around 270 pounds of fruit and tree nuts (fresh and processed, fresh-weight basis, excluding melons) each year. Per capita consumption of fruits and tree nuts is the third-largest among major food groups, after dairy products and vegetables.

Consisting of a wide array of crops and products, the U.S. fruit and tree nuts industry is an important component of the Nation's farm sector. Production is harvested from less than 2 percent of total harvested cropland, but generates, on average, around $18 billion in U.S. farm cash receipts annually. During the first decade of the 2000s, fruit and tree nut cash receipts averaged 13 percent of all crop receipts and 6 percent of all farm cash receipts (crops and livestock).

Domestic and international demand for fruit and tree nut products grew in the 1990s and through most of the first decade of the 2000s. U.S. growers have responded by continuing to expand production, with average output for this decade 3 percent higher than the previous decade. Technological innovations continue to increase productivity per acre in U.S. fruit and tree nut farms. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, while the number of farms growing fruit and tree nuts increased between 2002 and 2007, acreage continued to trend down.

Small, family, or individually run farm operations continue to dominate U.S. fruit and tree nut production. Most of the production and revenue, however, come from the few largest farms.

Fruit

Despite year-to-year fluctuations, utilized fruit production (excluding melons) in the United States during the 1990s and the first decade of 2000s averaged 10-20 percent higher than in the 1980s. The growth was in response to several factors such as:

  • Increased domestic consumption;
  • Expanding export markets;
  • Technological production changes, such as the adoption of close density planting;
  • New propagation methods that decrease the time needed for new trees to reach bearing age from 5-6 years to 2-3 years;
  • Use of disease or pest-resistant, high-yielding varieties; and
  • Greater use of early- or late-season varieties that extended typical marketing seasons for specific fruits so that growers may take advantage of market windows.

Production declines in recent years can be attributed mainly to weather and disease problems, mostly affecting citrus production.

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The Nation's largest fruit-producing States are California, Florida, and Washington. California accounts for about half of the harvested fruit acreage, Florida almost one-fourth, and Washington around one-tenth. Michigan, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas are also important fruit-producing States, and together these States account for over one-tenth of the Nation's fruit acreage.

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California is the largest producer of grapes, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, and kiwifruit. It is also a major producer of a variety of other noncitrus fruit, such as apples, pears, plums, and sweet cherries and is second in citrus production. California's fruit-friendly climate gives it an advantage over other fruit-producing States. Florida's primary fruit crop is citrus. Washington is the largest apple producer and an important producer of grapes and pears. Strawberries

Most fruits are grown to serve both fresh and processing markets. The fresh-market sector accounts for more than half the value of U.S. fruit production, with over three-quarters of that generated by noncitrus fruits. California's production accounts for more than half the value of all fresh fruits. The fresh market is the destination for over half the volume of all U.S.-produced avocados, bananas, nectarines, kiwifruit, strawberries, tangerines, sweet cherries, apples, pears, and lemons. Meanwhile, some examples of fruit that have a larger percentage of production going into processing are oranges, grapefruit, grapes, apricots, figs, prunes, peaches, tart cherries, and most berries, including blueberries and cranberries.

Processed fruit products include canned, frozen, juice, and dried fruit, as well as wine. At packinghouses, fruits are inspected and graded for size, shape, and appearance. Some fruits intended for the fresh market are diverted to processors because of quality requirements. Most fruits for processing, on the other hand, are not easily diverted to the fresh market because of the same quality requirements. Most fruit destined for processing is grown under contractual arrangement between growers and processors.

Oranges on Tree Oranges, grapes, apples, bananas, and pineapples are the top five fruits consumed in the United States during the first decade of the 2000s (includes fresh and all processed products). Although annual per capita fruit juice consumption has declined since the 1990s, juice remains the number one form in which fruit is consumed in the United States. On a fresh-weight basis, fruit juice accounts for nearly half of the total per capita fruit consumed annually; fresh use accounts for over one-third; and canned, dried, and frozen fruit each represent less than one-tenth.

Increased domestic and world supplies, rising disposable incomes, and a growing and more culturally diverse population will continue to drive consumer demand for fruit and fruit products in the United States over the next decade. Another important stimulus is continued emphasis on health and nutrition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Produce for Better Health Foundation, in conjunction with other organizations, have established the National Fruit and Vegetable Program, which promotes public health through increased fruit and vegetable consumption. Its new public health initiative, "Fruit & Veggies--More Matters," launched in March 2007, replaces the National 5-A-Day campaign, which was established in 1992 through a partnership between the National Cancer Institute and the Produce for Better Health Foundation. Such efforts will likely result in further gains in per capita use.

Melons

The average American consumer eats about 27 pounds of melons each year. U.S. melon production predominantly comprises watermelons, cantaloupes, and honeydews. These melons are consumed fresh although some processed products are also present in the market (examples: roasted watermelon seeds, pickled rinds, and watermelon juice) for which no data are currently available.  Of the leading U.S.-produced melon crops, watermelons account for more than half of per capita annual domestic melon use, while cantaloupes and honeydews comprise most of the remaining use, and miscellaneous melons, only a minute share. 

With the domestic market serving as the primary market for the three predominant types of U.S. melon crops, an increase in domestic melon production during the 1970s through the 1990s led directly to increasing domestic per capita melon use during that period. Harvested U.S. melon acreage has been generally declining since the early 1990s, but improved varieties and increased use of irrigation have kept domestic production from moving along the same path. Although imports have grown since the 1990s, domestic demand for melons as measured by per capita use) has declined slightly since the new millennium as U.S. production--still sold mostly in the domestic market--and export sales both remained relatively stable.

Over 200,000 acres of melons (includes watermelons, cantaloupes, and honeydew) were harvested annually during the 2000s, producing over 6.0 billion pounds on average and valued at over $800 million. Melons are grown across the United States, but production is mostly concentrated in California, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, and Texas. Collectively these top five States account for more than three-fourths of total harvested acreage and around 80 percent of production.

Watermelon is the leading U.S. melon crop in terms of harvested area, production, and per capita use. Until 2004, cantaloupe tended to be the leading melon crop in terms of crop value because of higher unit values. More recently, the value of watermelon production, which now averages over $450 million, has overtaken the value of the cantaloupe crop, which averages over $300 million annually.

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Tree Nuts

U.S. tree nut production increased significantly over the past three decades, from 306.4 million pounds (shelled basis) in 1970 to over 2.0 billion pounds in the second half of the first decade of the 2000s. Greater domestic and foreign demand are driving that increase. U.S. per capita use of all tree nuts was over 3.0 pounds (shelled basis) in recent years, up from 1.7 pounds in 1977. Exports continued to gain a larger share of domestic supplies, increasing from an average of 24 percent during the 1970s to over 40 percent during the 1990s and 2000s.

U.S. tree nut production since 2005 generated, on average, nearly $4 billion in annual farm cash receipts, with almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and pecans accounting for most of the sales. California is the Nation's number one producer of tree nuts. California orchards produce almost 90 percent of U.S. tree nuts annually, including virtually all almonds PDF icon (16x16) , pistachios, and walnuts PDF icon (16x16) . Producing only pecans, Georgia, New Mexico, and Texas each make up 1-2 percent of total tree nut output. Together, these three States produce nearly three-quarters of the U.S. pecan PDF icon (16x16) crop. Though small in terms of total tree nut production numbers, hazelnuts are grown in Oregon and macadamia nuts are grown in Hawaii.

Year-to-year tree nut production levels are erratic. Besides weather-related factors, annual fluctuations in production result from the naturally fluctuating yield of most nut trees. Trees producing a large crop in one year most often yield a smaller crop the next year to restore nutrient reserves. Over the last two decades, the fluctuating-bearing pattern in U.S. nut trees was strongest in pecans, pistachios, and walnuts.

Similar to fruit and vegetables, increased demand for tree nuts in the United States over the last several years can be attributed to rising population and incomes, and heightened interest in health and nutrition. Like fruit and vegetable growers, the U.S. tree nut industry has been active in promoting the health benefits of tree nuts. The top three nuts consumed in the United States are almonds, walnuts, and pecans.

Last updated: Saturday, May 26, 2012

For more information contact: Agnes Perez

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