Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How's the Produce Competition Doing?

by John Berry, Extension Educator in Lehigh Co.

U.S. consumers have benefited from an increasing volume and variety of fresh produce at both retail and food service outlets.  There has been a significant accompanying growth in imports, particularly since the 1990's.  The produce section in today's grocery store often has dozens, if not hundreds, of different fresh fruits and vegetables on display all year around.  This product typically comes from all corners of the globe as additions to our domestic fresh fruit and vegetables.  Improved logistics, technology, and transportation have allowed this increase in availability.

Did you know nearly two-thirds of our fresh produce imports from from Mexico, Chile, and Costa Rica? Additionally, California, taking advantage of its diverse geography and climates, is the nation's largest fresh-market producer.  The State is the nation's leading producer of fresh-market grapes, strawberries, peaches, and a major producer of a wide variety of fresh vegetables and greens.

What does all this have to do with me as a local produce farmer?  As we continue to finalize 2013 and develop a growing and marketing plan for 2014 - we may wonder how the upcoming season will treat us compared to previous years.  Could there be any impact from this produce typically coming from outside our local area?

Precipitation is forecast to be in short supply in 2014.
A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that, "Record-low precipitation in 2013 has worsened California's drought, draining reservoirs, forcing farmers to keep fallow thousands of acres of fields and leaving some ski resorts high and dry during the busy holiday season.  Urban and agricultural customers, including Southern California's huge Metropolitan Water District, have been told by the state to expect to receive this year, on average, just 5% of the water they historically request, after a year in which rainfall totals hit record lows in many parts of the state.  Last year, customers received 35% of requested supply, on average."  Additionally, checking NOAA drought monitor data, we see most of Mexico and much of South America are currently rated at "dry" or "drought" status also.

As our customers expand concern for healthful foods and build increased awareness of local farm-food sources we may expect another strong demand year in 2014.  Local distribution is also seeing some growth.  Not only are there examples of local food distribution systems starting to mature, the many established food brokers are carrying more and more local produce as their conventional customers demand.

Of course, no one can predict the future - but - if growing conditions in the southeast U.S. and South America are not ideal, perhaps east coast growers will be able to fill more of the expanded regional demand for fresh produce in 2014.  Will we be prepared?

Remember to consider participating in the 2014 Mid-Atlantic Fruit & Vegetable Convention January 28-30. There are many educational sessions appropriate for those of us in the commercial produce business.

* This article includes information from FTS-356-01; Economic Research Service/USDA

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