Refrigerated cargo ship Knud Reefer offloading grapes from Chile at the Port of Los Angeles in April 2020.

The value of total U.S. fruit imports (including fresh, processed and frozen) rose nearly five-fold from $4.8 billion in 1999 to $22.7 billion in 2021, according to the USDA. Total vegetable imports grew at a similar rate from just $3.6 billion to $15.8 billion over the same period, while tree nut imports to the U.S. jumped from $833 million to $3.2 billion. All this growth cannot be attributed to population growth alone, which grew by just 19% over the period. Import volume growth is attributed in large part to longer production seasons, liberalized trade agreements, comparatively lower foreign exchange rates, and increased consumer demand for year-round availability of many types of fresh produce. This impressive growth is showing no signs of slowing down. In the fiscal year 2022 (which ended Sept. 30, 2022) total agricultural imports, of which almost half are hor- ticultural products, grew by 19% in terms of value. This is their largest year-on-year percentage increase since FY 2011, according to a report by the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). “The historically large increase […] is a product of the unwavering upward trend of import volumes in the face of increasing unit values for nearly every agricultural import product group,” the report said. Today’s global view The future may not always be so rosy, cautions veteran pro- duce consultant Dawn Gray. “It is a big, complicated world. But it is also a little tiny world. We all follow each other around,” says Gray, adding “Southern Hemisphere produc- ers ask each other: ‘What was a good market for you?’” She notes that when fruit exporters heard that Viet- nam was paying great prices, “everybody went to Vietnam and crashed the market. Vietnam was great for about five minutes. These markets look big, and they are big, but they can’t take the entire world dumping their fruit into them all at once.” Through health and logistics, the Covid pandemic dealt a blow to previously booming Chinese and Indian economies, impacting the fruit markets, Gray says. Now, North America may very well be the beacon of hope for the fresh produce industry. International grow- er-shippers eye 370 million people living in the United States and Canada. They see that American experts “may argue on various television channels about the state of the economy,” but U.S. commerce is still stronger than most places. As a consequence, Gray says global trade seems to have made a broad decision to go to North America. The U.S. has long been self-sufficient in food. But as


always on the attack as each tomato, berry and basil leaf is plucked by a harvester — if one can be found. Even as for- tunate perishable crops survive initial weather threats, it is always a rush to market for fresh fruits and vegetables. Gradually, a plethora of technological advances ad- dressed perishability and extended timelines to stretch the geographic reach of fresh fruit and vegetable consumption. Today, refrigerated trailer temperature monitors guard produce traveling quickly across modern highways. Fruits and vegetables, bred for long shelf life, are now routinely carried between continents by sea — or through the air — in sophisticated refrigerated containers.

Vision Magazine 17

December 2022

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