U.S. imports of fresh produce commodities increased at a faster than exports, but the U.S. still enjoyed a record surplus in agriculture trade in 2011.

U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show export sales of U.S. agricultural products in 2011 surged 18% to a record $136 billion, up $20 billion over last year. Imports of agricultural products grew 21% to $98.9 billion. The trade surplus in agricultural goods during 2011 was $37.3 billion, up from $33.9 billion in 2010.

The USDA said grains were the biggest contributor to the overall export record, reaching an all-time export value of $37 billion, up $9.2 billion compared with 2010.

For fresh produce items however, imports far outpaced exports in 2011. Total fresh fruit and vegetable exports were $6.7 billion, compared with fresh produce imports valued at $13.6 billion. The net trade deficit for fresh produce items was $6.9 billion in 2011, up slightly from $6.6 billion in 2010.

In a recent long-term projection, the USDA has projected the trade deficit for fresh fruits and vegetables will increase to nearly $11 billion by 2020.

Administration officials in mid-February focused on the growth of exports.

“Exports of almost all major U.S. commodities rose in calendar year 2011, helping us to reach President Obama’s goal of doubling all U.S. exports by the end of 2014,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release.

The USDA reports that fresh fruit exports rose 13% in 2011 to $4.5 billion, while fresh vegetable exports rose 6% to $2.2 billion.

Fresh produce commodities that experienced double-digit growth in value for 2011 were apples (+14%), grapes (+14%), oranges/tangerines (+21%), berries (+13%), cherries (+26%), potatoes (+33%), pears (+15%), melons (+16%), cauliflower (+24%), peppers (+11%), plums (+10%), sweet corn (+27%) and cabbage (+22%).

Growth of imports was strongest for vegetable commodities. The USDA said fresh fruit imports totaled $7.8 billion in 2011, up 7% from 2010. Fresh vegetable imports were valued at $5.8 billion, up 10% from 2010.

USDA statistics revealed double digit growth of 2011 import value in tomatoes (+19%), bananas (+11%), berries (+20%), avocados (+59%), strawberries (+12%), mangoes (15%), potatoes (+34%), lettuce (+25%), cauliflower/ broccoli (+34%), pears (+16%), carrots (+55%), kiwifruit (10%), peas (+19%), and plums (+10%),

Tomatoes were the top fresh produce import by value. Tomato imports from all countries in 2011, at $2.1 billion, were up 19% from 2010. In comparison, U.S. fresh tomato exports in 2011 were valued at $185 million, down 6% from 2010. That left the tomato balance of trade at a $1.9 billion deficit in 2011.