A Cornucopia of categories for crops
For those of us who are not agricultural experts, the different categories used to describe crops can be bewildering. Field crops. Specialty crops. Vegetable crops. Cash crops. What are all these designations? Which ones are mutually exclusive, and which ones overlap?
This post lays out some of the most common ways that the USDA groups and describes crops. Then it dives into details for fruit and vegetable commodities produced in the United States.
Annual crops vs. perennial crops
This is a fairly straightforward distinction: annual crops are those that must be replanted every year (such as corn and sunflowers), whereas perennial crops are those with a multi-year lifespan (such as almonds and oranges). Most vegetables, grains, and oilseeds are annuals, whereas most fruits are perennials. Some crops that are really perennials (such as strawberries) or biennials (such as carrots and cabbage) are, in practice, treated as annuals and replanted every year to maximize yields.
Field crops vs. specialty crops
This distinction is unique to the USDA: specialty crops are defined as fruits, nuts, and vegetables (including floriculture and nursery plants), while field crops are everything else (grains, dry legumes, oilseeds, fiber crops, and hay). This can lead to some unexpected dichotomies: for example, green beans are a specialty crop, while dried beans are a field crop. Walnuts are a specialty crop, while peanuts are a field crop (because they’re dry legumes). Sunflowers grown for oil are a field crop, while sunflowers grown for the floral industry are a specialty crop. And, although you probably think of potatoes as vegetables, the USDA categorizes all potatoes (including sweet potatoes) as field crops.
Fruit crops vs. vegetable crops
Botanically, a fruit is the mature reproductive part of a plant (containing seeds), while a vegetable can be any other part of the plant, such as leaves, stems, roots, or tubers. However, USDA uses colloquial definitions: tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and squash (even melons!) are all classified as vegetables by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), even though they are botanically fruits. Nearly all “vegetables” are annuals and nearly all “fruit” are perennials, with the notable exceptions of strawberries (an annual fruit) and asparagus and artichokes (perennial vegetables). Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (AgMRC) provides an overview of crops classified as fruits and vegetables.
Fruit crops overview
The U.S. fruits industry consists of a wide array of crops and products generating over $20 billion in farm cash receipts annually. USDA further divides fruit crops into Citrus and Non-Citrus fruits which accounted for $3.3 and $16.7 billion worth of production value utilized respectively for the year 2018. Figures 1 and 2 provide a summary of the trend in national production, utilized production and value of utilized production for citrus and non-citrus fruits respectively.
Figure 1, Citrus Fruits Summary
Figure 2, Non-Citrus Fruits Summary
Vegetable crops overview
The U.S. vegetable industry consists of a wide array of crops and products producing 27 vegetable commodities worth $14 Billion ($17 Billion including potatoes) across the United States in 2019. Figure 3 provides a summary of the trend in national production, utilized production and value of utilized production for vegetable crops in the United States.
Figure 3, Vegetables Summary
Data coverage and analysis
Fruits and vegetables data provide acreage planted and harvested, condition, yield, production, price received, and more for over 63 different commodities produced in the United States. This data can be used to perform various analysis which includes but not limited to:
Accessing fruits and vegetables data
Fruits and vegetables data is available through Barchart’s cmdty line of products. Get the latest fruits and vegetables data delivered to your excel spreadsheet via cmdtyView Excel to create bespoke analyses. Barchart’s extensive data and the customizable delivery capabilities allow you to scale your workflows, build bespoke seasonal analysis, or develop products to make better decisions.
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