Vegetables: An Overview of Production and Economic Significance in Indiana

In December 2015 I presented a talk at the Certified Crop Advisors Conference in Indianapolis titled ‘Specialty Crops of Indiana’. The information gathered for the talk was so interesting that I thought I would share it with all the Vegetable Crops Hotline readers as well.

Data Sources.  Information used to compile this article has been derived from the USDA National Agriculture Statistical Service 2012 Census of Agriculture, the 2014 Crop Values Summary, the 2014 Horticulture Specialties Census, and reports from the Economic Research Service.

National Statistics.  In 2012, the production of vegetables in California contributed 26% to the total national acreage, followed by Idaho and Washington each at 8%, Florida and Wisconsin tied at 6%, Minnesota at 5%, and Michigan at 4%. Nationally it was estimated that 2.5 million acres of vegetables, potatoes and melons were harvested for sale, totaling $11.8 billion. In 2014, the value of production increased to $13.1 billion, of which 83% was fresh market vegetables. When potato ($3.85 billion) and sweet potato ($0.7 billion) are added, the total value of production increased to $17.6 billion. Nationally, the Top 5 vegetable crops for fresh market and processing, in terms of production value, are potato, lettuce (head, leaf and romaine), tomato, sweet corn, and onion.

Import and Export.  The U.S. is a net importer of fresh vegetables. For example, in 2014, we imported $6.7 billion of fresh vegetables but exported only $2.4 billion. Import demand for fresh vegetables is driven to a large extent by off-season consumption during the cold weather months, when production locally is seasonally low. Exports are higher during March to July and are mainly driven by juice, frozen, prepared and preserved vegetables and seed ($3.7 billion). Our biggest import source and export destination are Mexico (69%) and Canada (77%), respectively.

Indiana Statistics.  Even though Indiana is considered one of the most important agricultural states in the country, it imports approximately 90% of its food crops, estimated at $14.5 billion, from other states (Indiana Grown Initiative, 2015). In 2012, Indiana contributed less than 1% to the total national vegetable acreage. The estimated commercial vegetable crop value was estimated at $99.1 million in 2014, up from $89.8 million in 2012. The vegetable crop value is about 1.3% of the value of all principle crops (includes field and miscellaneous crops, fruits and nuts and commercial vegetables) grown in Indiana. The value of vegetables, potatoes, melons and sweet potatoes sold, as a percent of the total market value of agricultural products sold, was the highest in Knox and Lawrence counties, followed by Sullivan and Floyd.

In 2012, Indiana planted 49 different types of vegetables and melons, and harvested 37,747 acres of vegetables, potatoes and melons, compared to our surrounding states Michigan (158,661 acres), Illinois (71,946 acres), Ohio (35,556 acres) and Kentucky (7,474 acres). Tomato is the biggest crop in Indiana (10,410 acres) followed by sweet corn (6,050 acres), watermelon (5,498 acres), snap beans (3,901 acres), potatoes (3,539 acres), pumpkin (3,518 acres), cucumber and pickles (1,535 acres), and muskmelon and cantaloupe (1,189 acres). A big amount of the vegetables grown in Indiana are for processing. In fact, an estimated 96% of the tomato crop is for processing; and between 70 to 90% of the potato, snap bean, and cucumber and pickle crops are processed. However, only 18% of the sweet corn crop is processed.

Indiana has a very small high tunnel and greenhouse vegetable and herb production base. In 2012, the value of sales per square foot for tomato was $4.46, and for other vegetables and herbs $5.21, compared to $10.29 for vegetable transplants. Between 2007 and 2012 there was a significant increase (93%) in the high tunnel and greenhouse vegetable and herb production area. This was mainly led by a 227% increase in the production area for tomatoes. Similarly, the area devoted to the production of vegetable transplants increase by about 66%. However, in 2014, it was estimated that 270 acres of land was dedicated to high tunnel and greenhouse crop production (all crops). Of that, only 27.8 acres were devoted to food production in 2012. In terms of our surrounding states, Ohio has the largest acreage (39.3) of high tunnels and greenhouses devoted to food production followed by Michigan (30.6 acres), Kentucky (21.9 acres) and Illinois (18.1 acres).

General. The local food movement has significantly impacted Indiana’s vegetable industry in a very positive way as consumer demand for local vegetables has increased. This increased demand for local production has become mainstream and caused larger regional and national grocery chains to purchase from local farmers. Although there may be a debate about what is local, it does not diminish the fact that Indiana is centrally located to major populations in Chicago, New York City, Cincinnati and more. Good soils, an abundance of water and the proximity to diverse and large markets put Indiana in an ideal situation to increase its vegetable production acreage. The production acreage has already increased by about 2,200 acres between 2007 and 2012. Other technologies such as high tunnels and greenhouses can further increase the supply of vegetables well into the winter.

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