It's a conundrum that as exports become increasingly important to the U.S. horticulture sector, imports of fruit and nuts, vegetables, and greenhouse/nursery products continue to rise, making the United States a net importer.

U.S. exports of horticultural products are expected to rise in value by 2.6 percent on average during the next decade, according to USDA's 2005 Agricultural Baseline Projections.

But, horticultural imports during the same period are projected to grow by 3.6 percent from the $24.8 billion expected in 2005, resulting in an increase in the horticultural trade deficit from $11 billion this year to $16 billion by the end of the decade.

Major export markets for U.S. horticultural products include Canada, Japan, and Southeast Asian nations. Fresh non-citrus fruits and fruit juices lead in growth, while the largest exports are grapes, strawberries, apples, and orange juice. Export prospects for processed vegetables over the next 10 years are stronger than for fresh vegetables. Frozen potatoes are the leading U.S. vegetable export.

Major U.S. horticultural imports include potatoes, tomatoes, bananas, grapes, frozen concentrated orange juice, apple juice, melons, and tree nuts, especially cashews.

“Imports play an important role in domestic supply during the winter months and, increasingly, during other times of the year as lower costs and reduced trade barriers make horticultural imports more competitive, the report by the Interagency Agricultural Projections Committee noted.