Shelves of fresh fruit and vege- tables at a supermarket


Near-term outlook In the near future, produce imports are indeed expected to rise. In an ERS-FAS report published in November 2022, the authors say that horticultural imports into the U.S. are expected to edge past the $100-billion mark for the first time in FY 2023, rising 3% year-on-year. The category’s growth is largely driven by expected increases in fresh fruit and vegetables, which are set to rise by 4% and 6% respectively. For fresh fruit specifically, the report notes that the forecast rise is due in part to ongoing droughts in key fruit-producing areas of the U.S., high production costs, and an ongoing decline in citrus production. At the same time, favorable production is expected in major export- ing countries in South and Central America. From South America alone, agricultural imports are due to rise by 6% year-on-year in FY 2023 to $22.8 billion, “due to a good production forecast for fresh fruits and vegetables for the region,” the report says. Generally, the report adds that the strong U.S. dollar makes foreign agricultural goods comparatively afford- able for the U.S. domestic market and partially accounts for moderate upward pressure on import volumes. However, current economic conditions are likely to mean that the import increases in FY 2023 are not quite as high as in the previous couple of years. The report notes: “The upward pressures on U.S. imports are expected to be tempered by a slowing economy coupled with continuing inflation, which would slow domestic demand for con- sumer goods as well as agricultural products. Though ag- ricultural products would be less impacted by these ebbing

consumer expectations grew with the luxury of year- round produce sourcing, successful foreign suppliers gained momentum and further accelerated demand. Meanwhile, U.S. growers faced increasing internal cost and supply problems, opening even wider doors for production outside the U.S.’s borders. Dante Galeazzi, president of the Texas International Produce Association, based in Mission, TX, observes that competitive setbacks for U.S. growers are advantageous not only for his Mexican produce constituents but for growers around the world. While the produce industry once was characterized by seasonal availability gaps, production extended to many fertile corners of the earth fulfilled con- sumer demand and then served expanding expectations. Broadly speaking, Galeazzi says the North Ameri- can market will import increasingly large volumes of fresh produce because the population is growing. And far beyond eating to avoid starvation, sophisticated North American consumers are gaining knowledge in food and health, especially after the pandemic. Galeazzi further notes that with inflation, supplemental nutrition such as vitamins will be replaced because of the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables. “Fresh is far more affordable,” he says. “Families want health, but they need it in a budget-friend- ly form. That is the direction we’re going to go.” Eyeing continued North American produce import growth, Gray notes: “Some of it will be targeted, planned, strategic partnerships and carefully thought out, and some of it will be based on that wonderful agricultural activity — hope. Time will tell, but in the immediate term that is the way I would read the tea leaves.”

18 Vision Magazine

December 2022

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