US Imports of Fresh Fruit and Vegetable
February 24, 2021
The US imports almost two-thirds of its fresh fruit and one-third of its fresh vegetables. The share of imports is rising for many fruits and vegetables due to higher US incomes that support a year-round demand for fresh produce and freer trade with countries that export fresh fruits and vegetables.
US imports of fresh fruit were $14 billion in FY19, and imports of fresh vegetables were $9 billion (data are in 2019 $)
The top five fresh fruit imports accounted for three-fourths of the $14 billion of all US fresh fruit imports in FY19, led by $3.3 billion worth of berries, $2.7 billion worth of avocados, $2.2 billion worth of bananas, $1.6 billion worth of grapes, and $800 million worth of pineapples. The value of berry imports rose fastest over the past decade, while the value of banana imports fell.
US imports of berries and avocados were 40% of the $14 billion of fresh fruit imports in FY19
Mexico provided over half of US fresh fruit imports by value in FY19, exporting fresh fruit worth over $7 billion, followed by Chile, $1.8 billion, and Guatemala and Peru, $1.2 billion each. Peru had the fastest growth in fresh fruit exports to the US, led by fresh blueberries.
Mexico accounted for over half of the $14 billion in US fresh fruit imports in FY19; Peru had the fastest growth in fresh fruit exports to the US over the past decade
Mexico is the source of three-fourths of US fresh vegetable imports. The most valuable fresh vegetable import is tomatoes, followed by bell peppers, squash, cucumbers, and onions.
Mexico is the source of 3/4 of US fresh vegetable imports
The US is a net exporter of agricultural commodities, but the gap between the value of US farm exports and the value of US farm imports is shrinking. One reason is that the value of some major farm commodities that the US exports, such as meat and grains, are rising slower than the value of US fruit and vegetable imports. The US exported about $35 billion worth of horticultural products in 2019, $30 billion each of animal commodities and grains and feedstuffs, and $25 billion worth of oil seeds.
The US exported $135 billion worth of farm commodities in FY19, including $35 billion worth of horticultural products
The US imported $132 billion worth of farm commodities in FY19, led by $66 billion worth of horticultural products, $23 billion worth of sugar and tropical products, and $18 billion worth of animal commodities.
Half of the $132 billion of US agricultural imports were horticultural commodities in FY19
There are five major reasons for rising US fruit and vegetable imports that are summarized in the table below: limited US production, seasonal gaps, foreign produce that is better or cheaper, imports providing insurance for US producers, and transportation and marketing factors.
First, some fruits and vegetables are not grown commercially in the US, such as bananas and other tropical fruits, and must be imported to make them available to US consumers.
Second, some commodities are not grown year-round in the US, as with fruits and vegetables that can be imported from Mexico and Central and South America during the winter months when most US producers are not producing. The exceptions to limited US production during the winter months is Florida, which produces some winter fruits and vegetables in competition with winter-month imports, as well as production in greenhouses and under other protected culture structures.
5 reasons for rising US fruit and vegetable imports
|Limited US production||The US climate precludes commercial production of tropical fruit||Almost all bananas, mangos, pineapples are imported||Rising US incomes support rising fresh fruit consumption||Most tropical fruits are imported from Mexico and Central America|
|Off-season supplies||Most US fruits and vegetables are produced between May and October, and some cannot be stored for long periods||Berries, grapes, many tree fruits, and tomatoes and other vegetables are imported during winter months||Winter imports are mostly from Chile, Peru, and Mexico and Central America||Production abroad for export to the US is rising due to local and US investment|
|Competitive production abroad||Foreign producers have lower labor and other costs or obtain higher yields or quality||Wages are a high share of the cost of producing asparagus & green onions, explaining declining US production and rising imports||New blueberry varieties are well suited to climates abroad) that, added to lower labor costs and good transport links, encourage exports to the US||There has been rapid growth in fresh fruit and vegetable exports from Mexico and Peru|
|Insuring supplies||US producers may be contractually committed to provide bagged salads to supermarkets and restaurant chains||Leafy green vegetables (lettuce) are grown in AZ and CA during the winter months. Plantings in Mexico offers insurance||Grower-shippers sign contracts to provide bagged salads year-round, and need to ensure a supply of leafy greens||Mexican-grown vegetables may not be imported if US supplies are adequate|
|Transportation or other non-production reasons||Transportation costs may be lower from Mexico to NYC, or from Central America to NYC, than from the western US||Improved Mexican highways facilitate shipments of fruits and vegetables from Mexico||Transportation costs can be a high share of production costs imports|
Third, some commodities may be produced more efficiently abroad than in the US, including asparagus, avocados, and green onions. Reasons for the competitive advantage of foreign producers range from lower labor costs, as with asparagus and green onions, to climate and other factors, as with avocados. Some producers are able to plant on land that was not previously used to grow crops and thus have fewer pest and disease pressures that accumulate over time, as with nematodes in land used for strawberries.
Fourth, some US producers may produce abroad because they are contractually obliged to provide a certain quantity of bagged salads or other commodities, and they rely on imports to avoid financial penalties if weather, disease, or pests reduce their US production. For example, some California grower-shippers of leafy green vegetables plant lettuce in Mexico to fulfill their bagged salad contracts if there are problems in Arizona and southern California, where US winter production of leafy green vegetables is concentrated, so that imports reduce the risk involved in guaranteeing supplies from a biological production process.
Fifth, imports may be cheaper for transportation and marketing reasons. For example, it can be cheaper to truck produce from northern Mexico to New York City than from California, and cheaper to send melons from Central America to Miami and then onward by truck to east coast consumers rather than to truck them from California.