Jury’s out on produce pricing

02/08/2013 09:28:00 AM
Andy Nelson

Andy Nelson, Markets EditorAndy Nelson, Markets EditorSo much for food inflation.

The next time one of your relatives or friends starts complaining about the high cost of produce and “Can’t you do something about it!” just point them to the recently released “Vegetables 2012” summary from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

According to the USDA, production of 24 leading U.S. vegetable and melon crops rose 1% in 2012, but their overall value fell by 6%, to $10.1 billion.

The report got me thinking historically. I was interested in how several trends tracked by USDA in the vegetables summaries have changed over the years.

Five years ago there was a lot more vegetable and melon production in the U.S., and the overall value was higher — though not proportionally higher.

Production fell from 494 million cwt. in 2007 to 438 million cwt. in 2012, while value fell from $10.9 billion to $10.1 billion.

Go back another five years, and it’s hard to find a definite trend one way or the other. The production total splits the difference: about 457 million cwt. were produced in 2002.

Despite the value drop from 2011 to 2012, an upward price trend over the years is evident.

While growers produced 19 million more cwt. in 2002 than in 2012, the value of the crop was more than $700 million lower a decade ago.

Inflation also can be seen looking backward from 2002. In 1992, about 370 million cwt. of the top vegetable and melon crops were produced in the U.S., according to USDA.

In 2002, that would have generated about $7.5 billion. In 1992, though, the total value came in at $6.15 billion.

The annual vegetables report also tracks the top vegetable and melon producers by state.

California accounted for 49% of production in 2012 and 50% of total value. Production in 2007 was similar — the Golden State accounted for 50% of production.

But value was considerably higher five years ago. Despite having just 1% more of the production pie, California accounted for 54% of total value in 2007 — 7% more than last year.

Again, however, going further back in time reveals the difficulty in pinpointing trends.

In 2002, California accounted for 48% of production but just 47% of value. And in 1992, the state made up 46% of production and a little less than 47% of value.

I also dug up some interesting things related to the “also rans” — the states that account for the biggest chunks of the other half of the pie California hasn’t gobbled up.


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