If you live in the United States, do you know where your fruits and vegetables come from? In a report for the Congressional Research Service, Renee Johnson reports on major importers and crops to the United States. While some of the information may not come as much of a surprise. The crops imported are. Let’s take a look at where our food is coming from.
The top exporter, as reported by Johnson, is Mexico. They account for 44% of imported fruits and vegetables. Major crops imported include: tomatoes, avocados, peppers, grapes, cucumbers, melons, berries, and onions.The next highest exporter is Canada at 12%. The major crops coming from them include: potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, cranberries, and cucumbers. The next highest exporters come in at less than 10% of imports. They include: Chile at 8%, the EU-28 at 7%, China at 6%, and Peru at 5%. Major crops from those countries include: grapes, cranberries, avocados, apples, berries, plums, cherries, olives, mandarins, asparagus, onions, garlic, and peppers. Other products include: fruit juices, processed fruit products, frozen fruits and vegetables, and preserved fruit and vegetables (Renee Johnson, The U.S. Trade Situation for Fruit and Vegetable Products). The report acknowledges that much of the US demand comes form the demand for out of season produce. However, the report also acknowledges that the US has gone from, “being a net exported of fruits and vegetables in the 1970s to having a net trade balance in the mid-1990s to being a net importer today.”
Tariffs and low-priced imports
Some would argue that the solution to the trade deficit is to increase US exports.The question of quality is an important one among many other barriers to US products. Johnson notes that one of the barriers to US exports is, “restrictive import and inspection requirements, technical product standards, and sanitary and photosanitary (SPS) requirements.” Among the various SPS and technical barriers to trade (TBT), Johnson notes chemical and pesticide residues is a barrier to US exports.The next problem Johnson reports is that of tariffs. Johnson reports that, “the global average tariff for fruits and vegetables is more than 50% of the import value. In the United States, however, about 60% of U.S. tariffs on fruits and vegetables are less than 5%”. In other words, US farmers pay a tariff over 50% the value of the product they are selling overseas meanwhile, foreign nations are paying less than 5% in tariffs to sell their products in the US.
Others would argue that we could reduce imports to reduce the deficit. However, Johnson notes that low prices for imported produce contribute to the demand for imported produce. One reason for the low prices is the low labor cost compared to the higher cost in the United States. However, tariffs are also much lower in the United States and could be used to equalize prices. Another issue the report acknowledges is a problem with past Farm Bills. Johnson notes that in the past, Farm Bills have focused on aid for farms growing major crops (corn, soybean, wheat). Meanwhile, specialty crops like fruits and vegetables have lacked support. While major crops are important, how many people enjoy sandwiches with only bread?
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
If you are interested in supporting American horticulture, you could buy more locally produced products. Many imported crops are also grown locally. Support your local farms and farmers. Many farmers who grow fruits and vegetables use CSA’s to market and sell their products. CSA’s are community supported agriculture. Many farms who participate in CSA’s will deliver products to you. Some offer volunteer opportunities- those offer excellent opportunities to get the kids outside!
Here are some resources for finding a local CSA.
Local Harvest A nationwide directory of CSA’s.
USDA Local Food Directory Another nationwide directory of CSA’s.
Penn State University AgMap Over 3,800 agricultural business listings.