There were a few readers of the NPR piece who admitted the pragmatic approach of buying local when possible but looking to imports in the dead of winter. Another questioned where “local” bananas could be found in the U.S. at any time of year.
Certainly, there is no doubt that imports are taking a rising role in fresh fruit and vegetable availability compared with decades ago.
A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service report titled “Imports contribute to year-round fresh fruit availability” said the import share of overall U.S. fresh fruit use expanded from 36.3% to 49% between 1990-92 and 2010-12. The report said that the import share of U.S. avocado consumption jumped from 9.4% in 1990-92 to 70.3% in 2010-12. Kiwifruit’s import share of consumpton rose from 51.2% to 75.6%, while the import share for blueberry consumption increased from 13.2% to 49.5%, the USDA said.
Fueled in part by greater imports, U.S. per capita use of all fresh fruit grew from 93.4 pounds in 1990-92 to 104.7 pounds in 2010-12, the USDA said. Showing the biggest growth were blueberries (+681%), papayas (+441%) mangoes (+252%), limes (+213%), cherries (+211%), pineapples (+200%), avocados (+189%, tangerines and tangelos (+159%), and strawberries (+116%).
For avocados, the USDA observed the startling fact that average annual U.S. avocado imports reached 420,954 metric tons in 2010-12, a whopping 2,214% increase since 1990-92. The agency noted that avocado imports have overtaken domestic production since 2005, when Mexico gained year-round access for its Hass avocados to 47 U.S. states.
Even so, the USDA said avocado imports from Mexico and Chile also complement California’s output, with more than 70% of domestic shipments between May and September in 2010-12, while more than 70% of imported avocados were marketed between October and April.
The USDA ERS report looked at imports grapes, avocados, oranges, strawberries, and apples and reached a conclusion that bolstered the view that imports help U.S. consumers and the U.S. economy. “Increased imports help to make up for seasonal shortfalls in domestic fruit production, which can help lower prices and smooth out price fluctuations in the domestic market,” the report said.
And despite increased imports, the USDA said that domestic fresh-market fruit production has maintained its level and even shown an upward trend in most for the five leading fruit imported fresh fruits. “It appears that imports have grown mostly to satisfy increased consumption rather than to replace domestic production.”
Disregarding all other notions and social motivations, then, we can say with confidence that imports are certainly more boon than bane to U.S. consumers and the fresh produce industry.