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Overview


ERS provides economic analyses and data on vegetables and pulses for the fresh market and for processing use, including the following:

  • Current and historical data on supply, use, value, prices, and trade for the sector and for individual commodities;
  • Bimonthly outlook reports that give current intelligence and forecasts on changing conditions in the U.S. vegetable and pulses sector; and
  • In-depth analyses of production, consumption, global production and trade, prices, and conditions and events affecting the vegetable and pulse sector and specific commodities.

The U.S. vegetable and pulse sector comprises hundreds of independent markets within the food marketing system. During the first 8 years of the 2000s, U.S. farm cash receipts from the sale of vegetables and pulses (including potatoes) averaged $17.4 billion--14 percent of U.S. crop cash receipts. This quantity was generated on less than 2 percent of all U.S. harvested acreage.  Annual per capita use of vegetables and pulses in the same period was 2 percent higher than a decade earlier.

One way to classify the vegetable industry is by the two major end uses: fresh market and processing. Processing can be further divided into canning, freezing, and dehydrating. For most vegetables, growing for processing is distinct from producing for the fresh market. Generally, little diversion takes place between the fresh and processing markets in the United States. Most varieties grown for processing are better adapted to mechanical harvesting and often do not have characteristics desirable for fresh-market sale. For example, processing tomatoes are generally smaller and possess different internal attributes (such as soluble solids) than most fresh varieties (except plum types). Most vegetables destined for processing are grown under contractual arrangements between growers and processors, whereas contracting for fresh market sales, although increasing, is still less common. About half of all vegetable production is destined for processing.

According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, U.S. vegetable farms are largely individually owned and relatively small, with three-fourths of the 69,172 farms that produce vegetables harvesting fewer than 15 acres. However, relatively few farms account for most commercial sales of vegetables. About 9 percent of operations classified as vegetable farms had sales over $500,000, yet these farms accounted for 90 percent of the value of vegetables sold by growers.

Vegetable and pulse production (including potatoes, sweet potatoes, and mushrooms) occurs throughout the United States, with the largest acreage in California, North Dakota (primarily potatoes and pulse crops), Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Washington, and Wisconsin. More than half of all vegetable production occurs on irrigated acreage. The Upper Midwest (Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan) and the Pacific States (California, Washington, and Oregon) report the largest vegetable acreage for processing, while California, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and New York harvest the largest acreage for the fresh market.

California and Florida produce the largest selection and quantity of fresh vegetables. California also produces vegetables for processing (especially tomatoes), while the Upper Midwest States (Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota) grow a large portion of the green peas, snap beans, and sweet corn used in canning. Northwestern States (Washington, Oregon, and Idaho) along with New York supply the largest share of frozen vegetables and more than half the potatoes. Significant potato production also takes place in Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Colorado. North Carolina, California, and Mississippi produce more than three-fourths of the sweet potato crop. Pennsylvania and California raise the majority of the Nation's mushrooms.

Climate causes most domestic fruit and vegetable production to be seasonal, with the largest harvests occurring during the summer and fall. Imports supplement domestic supplies, especially of fresh products during the winter, resulting in increased choices for consumers. For example, Florida produces the majority of domestic warm-season vegetables like fresh tomatoes during the winter and spring, while California produces the bulk of U.S. output in the summer and fall. Fresh tomato imports, primarily from Mexico and Canada (largely hothouse), boost total supply during the first half of the year and compete directly with winter and early spring production from Florida.

Vegetable yields have been rising. The major source of higher yields has been the introduction of more prolific hybrid varieties, many of which exhibit improved disease resistance as well as increased fruit set. The adoption of precision-farming techniques, including the adoption of drip irrigation, plastic mulches, row covers and high tunnels, more effective pesticide sprays, high-density planting, use of global positioning systems (GPS), and other methodological improvements have also boosted yields and enhanced quality.

Over the longer run, shifting from less productive areas to better yielding areas has also contributed to higher U.S. average yields. For example, much of the U.S. potato and onion production has moved from lower yielding Eastern States to more productive Western States, which also offer lower unit production costs.

Vegetable output is expected to rise faster than population growth over the next decade because of continued emphasis on health and nutrition, resulting in expanding consumer demand. In 1992, the fruit and vegetable industry, in cooperation with the National Cancer Institute, embarked on a campaign (the National 5-A-Day for Better Health Program, now called "Fruits & Veggies--More Matters") to increase awareness of, and substantially expand, U.S. fruit and vegetable consumption. This effort has been joined by the Specialty Crop Competitiveness Act of 2004 and various provisions in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, which, among other things, seeks to enhance the domestic consumption of vegetables, melons, and fruit. These programs, together with grassroots industry promotion efforts and the strengthened message of the USDA MyPlate, will continue to educate consumers on the benefits of a balanced diet that includes a variety of vegetables and melons.

Last updated: Friday, August 15, 2014

For more information contact: Suzanne Thornsbury and Hodan Farah Wells

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