According to new data from the USDA, the agricultural industry is changing.

By Zee Krstic
April 22, 2019
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Potatoes are a staple crop in the agricultural industry, and both raw and frozen potato products make up a large portion of American exports. Now, however, many farmers are focusing their growing efforts on a healthier alternative: the sweet potato. New data from the United States Department of Agriculture shows farmers are ramping up production on newly-popular types of produce rather than the staple vegetables that previously dominated the industry.

The USDA recently released their Census of Agriculture, a survey of the agricultural industry and farmers that's released every five years, and this year's report illustrates a new focus on health in the American supermarket. Vegetables that weren't considered dietary staples in reports from years prior have become some of America's fastest growing crops. Sweet potaotes, which are low in calories and carbohydrates when compared to regular potatoes, experienced the largest uptick in production. In fact, between 2012 and 2017 there was a 37.6 percent increase in their cultivation in farms across the nation, which is bigger than the next two fastest-growing crops combined.

Despite all of the recalls centered around them in 2018, leafy greens are right behind sweet potatoes on the list. Staples like spinach, kale, and romaine lettuce take up a large amount of space in American farms across the nation despite the fact that they were previously considered "trendy" food items-in 2012, many farmers considered kale a niche crop. Professionals are now investing more resources into kale production than they are for fresh spinach, which is the third largest growing crop in the industry in this year's report.

As for veggies that are falling out of grace? Sweet corn still makes up a major part of the farming landscape, but it lost around 75,000 acres between 2012 and 2017, or a 13 percent drop in production overall. Farmers in California and Washington were most likely to stop growing sweet corn and peas, while potatoes saw a decrease in popularity in Maine and North Dakota, per USDA figures.

It's clear that the American palate is changing, as is the produce aisle. And while these production statistics signify a major shift, the most dramatic change of all might be who does the farming in the first place. The number of female farmers increased 27 percent in this five year period, the USDA reports, and more farms are reporting that multiple individuals are involved in senior-level decision making. According to this Bloomberg report, increased interest in niche crops has allowed even more women to lead operations to meet the demand, and that trend is only expected to grow in the future.

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