Imports are a real concern for vegetable and specialty crop producers across the Southeast and were the basis for a couple of U.S. International Trade Commission hearings. A closer look at the most recent USDA data explains why.
According to the USDA Vegetable and Pulses Outlook: April 2021, the value of all vegetable and pulse imports totaled $16.1 billion in 2020. It has increased 79% over the past decade. Fresh-market vegetable imports, like cucumbers and squash, which were the source of the most recent U.S. International Trade Commission hearing, account for $10.2 billion.
The United States imported on average $9.2 billion of fresh vegetables during 2018-20, up from $4.7 billion during 2008-10.
Mexico is the main culprit, accounting for 77% of all fresh vegetable imports during 2018-20. It’s an increase from 71% in 2008-10. Canada is at 11%. The aggregate import volume of fresh-market vegetables (excluding potatoes) rose 63% between 2008-10 and 2018-20 with imports originating from more than 125 countries.
“The fresh vegetable industry has long had a love-hate relationship with imports,” according to the USDA Vegetable and Pulses Outlook: April 2021. “The retail/consumer sector embraced more variety, year-round availability, and competitive pricing while the domestic production sector, primarily growers and growers/shippers, lamented below-cost pricing or unfair competition.”
The largest shipment of imports enter the U.S. market during the winter, autumn and early spring months when there is not much domestic supply. Commodities like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squash prefer warmer temperatures for growth. Outside of South Florida, there really isn’t an option to produce these warm-season crops in the winter.
The volume of fresh vegetable imports increased 187% over the past two decades, while the share of availability increased 120%.