WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting slightly higher per consumption of fruits, vegetables and nuts during the next 10 years.

Although the pace of imports is expected to slow somewhat, the USDA said the 2011 U.S. trade deficit of $6.2 billion in fresh produce will swell to $10.7 billion in 2021.

In a report on agricultural projections to 2021 — released at the start of the Feb. 23-24 USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum — the USDA said that per capita use of fruits and tree nuts will increase at annual average growth rate of 0.2% during the next 10 years, while per capita use of vegetables will increase at an annual growth rate of 0.5% through 2021.

The agency said the value of U.S. farm sales of fruit and tree nuts is projected to grow an annual rate of 2% during the next decade, while sales of vegetables and melons will increase 1.6%.

The report included an array of long-term predictions about fruit, vegetable and nut production, trade and per capita use trends.

The agency said the value of U.S. horticultural imports is projected to increase 4.9% annually during the next decade, cooling down somewhat compared with the 8% annual growth in imports from 2001-11.

By 2021, the agency said imports are projected to supply 45% of U.S. domestic fruits and nuts and 25% of vegetables.

In 2011, imports accounted for 40% of fruit and nut use and 21% of U.S. vegetables use, by farm weight.

Exports will continue to play a big role for U.S. growers, according to the report. By 2021, the agency said exports will be the destination for 26% of U.S. fruit and nut production, up from 24% in 2011.

Meanwhile, the USDA said that about 14% of vegetables will sold to international buyers in 2021, up slightly from 2011.

Other long-term projections by the USDA:

  • The volume of U.S. farm production of vegetables and melons is projected to grow 1% annually, reaching 146 billion pounds in 2021;
  • The volume of U.S. fruit and nut production will grow by 0.3% per year, to 66 billion pounds in 2021;
  • Grower prices for vegetables are projected to rise at 0.6% per year;
  • Grower prices for fruits will increase 1.5% per year because of slower production growth;
  • Per capita use of fruits and tree nuts will increase from 269 pounds in 2011 to 274 pounds in 2021;
  • Per capita use of vegetables will grow from 417 pounds in 2011 to 439 pounds in 2021; and
  • Total supply of fruits, nuts and vegetables, including import and domestic supply, is projected to grow at an annual average rate of 1.3%.