(Feb. 26) Even though exports account for 21% of U.S. horticultural production, the U.S. balance of trade in fruits and vegetables will continue to be written in more and more red ink.

At the Feb. 19-20 Agricultural Outlook conference in Washington, D.C., the agency said the U.S. will remain a net importer of horticulture products in the next 10 years.

In fact, the agency said imports of fresh vegetables will play an increasing role throughout the year.

The USDA also noted that Canadian potato production and processing capacity have been increasing more then U.S. production and processing capacity. Those two facts will mean the U.S. will be a net potato importer within a few years, the USDA said.

U.S. potato imports, including processing and fresh, will grow from $575 million in 2002 to $984 million in 2013 — a gain of 71%. The US. Department of Agriculture’s trade figures showed that the U.S. imported $74 million of fresh potatoes from Canada in 2002, up for $51 million in 2001. That compares to U.S. exports of fresh potatoes to Canada of $67 million, up from $61 million in 2001.

Projections call for total U.S. potato exports to grow from $723 million in 2002 to $913 million in 2013, a rise of just 27%.

U.S. fresh fruit imports — including bananas but excluding melons — are expected to rise from $3.55 billion in 2002 to $4.97 billion in 2013.

That gain of 40% for imports is not quite matched in projections for U.S. exports.

U.S. fresh fruit exports are projected to increase 32%, from $2.13 billion in 2002 to $2.8 billion in 2013.

Vegetable trade projections, including melons but excluding potatoes, also showed a greater growth rate for imports.

The USDA projected fresh vegetable imports would rise 39% in the next decade, from $2.74 billion in 2002 to $3.81 billion in 2013.

Meanwhile, the agency forecast that U.S. fresh vegetable exports will rise 29%, from $1.24 billion in 2002 to $1.564 billion in 2013.

ASSUMPTIONS

In other projections, the USDA predicts the value of U.S. potatoes will grow at a slower rate than production.

The agency predicts that production of potatoes will increase 20% in 10 years, from 20.8 million metric tons in 2002 to 25.04 million metric tons in 2013.

However, the agency projects the increase in value of the crop during that same period at 9%, moving from $3.06 billion in 2002 to $3.35 billion in 2013.

U.S. fresh vegetable production will grow from 19.5 million metric tons in 2002 to 25.3 million metric tons by 2013, according to the USDA.

That gain of 30% compares with the expected rise of 55% in the value of U.S. vegetable production, estimated to climb from $8.9 billion in 2002 to $13.8 billion in 2013.

Collectively, U.S. fruit and nut production is expected to grow from 31 million metric tons in 2002 to 34 million metric tons in 2013.

By the end of that 10-year period, nut tonnage will decline 3%, U.S. citrus output will increase 7% and noncitrus fruit production will grow 13%, according to the USDA.

But Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter, said citrus production there will be “flat at best” in the next five to seven years. Large amounts of valencia, early navel and some lemon varieties are being removed and being replaced in some cases by mandarin varieties.

“I don’t necessarily envision increased production. We could see a shift in varieties,” he said.

Florida’s orange production also is under pressure from Brazilian imports of frozen concentrated orange juice, and industry members there have said it is vital that the industry retain their tariff protection if the U.S. enters a free-trade agreement with Brazil.

Compared with 2002, the value of U.S. fruit production will increase 22% for citrus to $3.1 billion by 2013, jump 41% for noncitrus fruit to $11.5 billion and rise 45% to $2.99 billion for nuts.

The USDA projects retail prices for fresh fruits will increase 37% from 2002 to 2013, while grower prices for fruit and nuts will rise 26%.

Retail prices for fresh vegetables are expected to climb 28% from 2002 to 2013, while grower prices for fresh vegetable will rise only 9% in the same period.