Magazine article Amber Waves

Newly Updated ERS Data Show 2016 Production, Trade Volume, and per Capita Availability of Vegetables and Pulses

Magazine article Amber Waves

Newly Updated ERS Data Show 2016 Production, Trade Volume, and per Capita Availability of Vegetables and Pulses

Article excerpt

In April 2017, ERS released its annual update of the Vegetables and Pulses Yearbook. According to the latest report on crop values from USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, vegetable sales at the farm level accounted for over $14.6 billion in 2015, making up approximately 8.2 percent of the total value of principal crops (includes field crops, fruits, tree nuts, and vegetables) produced.

The Vegetable and Pulses Yearbook provides data, both contemporary and historic, on domestic production, trade volumes, and per capita food availability for a wide variety of specialty crops. The data include estimates for fresh and processed vegetables, such as canned tomatoes or frozen vegetables, as well as detailed information on specific commodity markets. Fresh, canned, frozen, and some dried vegetables are included covering potatoes, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, and many others. Pulses, such as dry beans, dry peas, and lentils, are included in the yearbook data as well. A useful feature of the yearbook data is the ability to track trends and changes in these commodities over time.

Decade averages of per capita availability of fresh and processed vegetables show that fresh vegetable availability increased from around 90 pounds per person in the 1970s to a high of almost 150 pounds per person in the 2000s. Per capita fresh vegetable availability is down slightly in the current decade; although data are only through 2016, average availability is still well above the 1990s and earlier decades. Processed vegetable per capita availability tells a slightly different story, remaining relatively flat between 110 and 130 pounds per capita. Since the peak in the 1990s, processed vegetable availability has trended downwards.

For fresh vegetables, per capita numbers are largely driven by a few dominant commodities. Fresh potatoes and tomatoes both account for over 20 pounds available per person, with potatoes reaching well over 30 pounds per person. Onions, lettuce (both head and romaine/leaf), and bell peppers are all available at over 10 pounds per person. These vegetables, largely considered traditional staples of the American diet, have consistently been the top fresh commodities available per capita in recent years. With respect to domestic production, potatoes are the leading vegetable crop in the United States (excluding sweet potatoes), contributing about 15 percent of farm sales receipts for vegetables. U.S. fresh field-grown tomato production has trended higher over the past several decades with the most substantial growth occurring during the 1980s. As they have for decades, Florida and California annually account for two-thirds to three-fourths of all commercially produced fresh-market tomatoes in the United States.

For processed vegetables, potatoes (including frozen, chips, dehydrated, and canned) and tomatoes are the two leading commodities in terms of per capita availability. In 2016, there were over 60 pounds of tomatoes available per capita, and potatoes were even higher at more than 75 pounds per person. Since 1970, availability of processed potatoes has surpassed fresh in the United States. Spurred by the innovation of frozen French fry processing techniques in the 1950s and the increasing popularity of fast food chains, processed potatoes have composed 70 percent of total U.S. potato availability since 2010. Processed tomatoes, often found in spaghetti sauces, salsas, and many other products, have accounted for 76 percent of all tomato availability since 2010. …

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