Monday, April 22, 2019

2017 Ag Census shows big shift in vegetable cultivation

What's hot and what's not in vegetables. (Washington
Post chart; click on the image to enlarge it.)
The recently released 2017 Census of Agriculture reveals a shift in which vegetables American farmers are growing. In many cases, "Vegetables that may once have been dismissed as fads or trends are reshaping America’s agricultural landscape," Laura Reiley and Andrew Van Dam report for The Washington Post. "Farmers are abandoning one-time basics such as sweet corn, green beans, peas and potatoes. In their place, they’re planting sweet potatoes and leafy greens such as spinach, kale and romaine lettuce."

The increasing prevalence of lower-carbohydrate and low glycemic-load diets, such as South Beach, Atkins, Paleo and others, has made sweet potatoes far more popular in the past five years and decreased the popularity of high-carbohydrate crops like potatoes. "Cultivation of sweet potatoes increased by 47,257 acres or 37.6 percent from 2012 to 2017, by far the biggest jump of any vegetable crop," Reiley and Van Dam report. "It’s more than the next two fastest-growing crops, romaine lettuce (up 22,780 acres) and spinach (up 23,592 acres), combined."

Sweet corn, on the other hand, lost 75,972 acres in the past five years -- a 13.3 percent decrease for the nation's second most-planted vegetable. Hank Scott, whose company Long and Scott produces Zellwood sweet corn in Mount Dora, Fla., told the Post that farmers are reconsidering planting sweet corn because the cost of farming is increasing, and farmers are under a lot of pressure to ward off diseases and produce the perfect corn that many buyers demand.

Scott said "stores such as Walmart are putting family farms out of business not just by playing hardball on prices but also by demanding year-round contracts," Reiley and Van Dam report. "If a family farmer wants a contract with a big supplier but doesn’t produce corn all year long, they’re responsible for buying another producer’s corn to cover the grocery behemoth’s supply chain during their off season."

Green beans, peas and lima bean production fell most in places where local growers usually process them for canning and freezing. That's because American consumers increasingly prefer fresh vegetables instead of frozen and canned, which has led many processing plants to close. That has forced some farmers to reduce or stop growing some crops like lima beans that are too perishable to sell fresh on a wide scale, Reiley and Van Dam report. Black-eyed pea cultivation fell mostly because it's getting harder and hard to control the weeds and bugs that choke off the plants' growth.

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