Import pressures abound in USDA’s analysis of US blueberry, strawberry markets

From The County Press | 21 September 2023

Overview of blueberries and strawberries in the U.S. market, complemented by charts from Agronometrics. Original published on September 20, 2023.

WASHINGTON — Demand for blueberries and strawberries in the U.S. has increased in recent years — and so has fierce competition to the domestic market.

A new report from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) dives into numbers from 2000–2020 to reveal the changing landscape of U.S. strawberry and blueberry markets.

While the U.S. exports some fresh blueberries, it’s become a net importer. Fresh highbush blueberries imports increased from 44 million pounds in 2000–02, to 450 million pounds in 2018-20, accounting for about 62% of the domestic fresh blueberry disappearance.

High prices for fresh market blueberries encouraged growth in global production, according to the report, which noted “U.S. growers adopted new cultivars and production practices to extend their season, and imports increased to supplement supplies during those months.”

From 2010-20, domestic fresh blueberry imports from Peru and Mexico grew from less than 1% to more than 50% as a result of increased planted acres and higher yields — which ERS partially attributes to suitable production conditions and high profitability.

blueberry volumes by his 1

Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics.
(Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here)

Peru, which started exporting fresh blueberries to the U.S. in 2010, was the top foreign supplier of fresh blueberries by 2020.

U.S. demand for organic blueberries grew rapidly between 2008 and 2019, with the value of organic blueberry sales increasing more than fivefold to reach $205 million in 2019. ERS added that ongoing advancements in mechanical harvesting “may be necessary for berry growers to manage increasing harvesting costs and to face the shortages of manual harvesting labor.”

strawberry volumes by hi

Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics.
(Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here)

Meanwhile, ERS noted the development and adoption of highyielding strawberry varieties led to an increase in total domestic production with less acreage from 2000–2020.

With more than $2 billion in annual U.S. farm gate sales — accounting for a 13% share of the total production value of fruit — strawberries rank third for all fruit produced in the U.S. in 2020.

Fresh strawberry imports increased significantly in the last two decades, particularly from Mexico, reaching a record high of 431 million pounds in 2020. While Mexican strawberries have an almost year-round presence in the U.S. market, approximately 85% of Mexico’s U.S.-bound shipments enter the market during winter and spring months.

Most strawberry exports from the United States are for fresh-market consumption and are shipped to Canada.

While imports increased, so did exports, growing 94% in volume during 2018–20 compared with 2000–2020. Frozen strawberries were exported in smaller quantities and declined in the past decade.

“Heightened awareness of health and environmental benefits are the major factors behind the growing demand for fruits, resulting in the expansion of both the conventional and organic berry sectors,” ERS concluded.

“Specifically, the organic berry market increased in the last two decades as sales have grown.”

The News in Charts is a collection of stories from the industry complemented by charts from Agronometrics to help better tell their story.

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