By Hayley Boriss, Henrich Brunke and Marcia Kreith, Agricultural Issues Center, University of California.
Revised March 2012 by Greg McKee, North Dakota State University.
In the United States, nearly all of the commercially grown plums are hybrids of the Japanese plum introduced by a Berkley nurseryman in the 1870s and subsequently hybridized by Luther Burbank in the late 1800s (California Tree Fruit Agreement).
Today, California is the dominant producer of plums due to its mild winters, minimal rainfall during the growing season and low humidity, which is ideal for Japanese varieties. In 2010 the state produced 141,300 tons of plums from 26,200 acres of land. The total value of the crop was $78.4 million (NASS 2011).
Four other states also raise plums commercially: Idaho, Michigan, Oregon and Washington. Oregon is generally the largest producer, followed by Washington, Idaho and Michigan. Together, these states harvested 12,300 tons of plums in 2010, including 7,800 tons of fresh plums. The total value of the fresh plums was $4.3 million (NASS 2011).
Consumption of fresh plums in the United States has remained relatively constant since 1970, ranging from 0.9 pounds per person to 1.9 pounds per person, although hovering at under one pound (0.93) per person in 2008 (ERS). Fresh plums compete in the market with other popular summer fruits including cherries, peaches and oranges.
In 2010, production of California plums increased to 141,300 tons, up from 2009. The total number of acres devoted to plums in California continues to decrease, from a peak of 42,000 acres in 1997 to a low of 26,200 acres in 2010.
The value of plum production has varied over the last two decades, due in part to the alternate bearing nature of plum trees. Total value of production peaked in 1990 at $134.4 million. In 2010, the total value of plum production in California was $78.4 million, up 36 percent from the previous year (NASS).
In 2008, the grower price for California plums plunged to $356 per ton, dropping more than $300 per ton from the previous year. Since then, plum prices have increased, reaching $555 per ton in 2010.
Plum prices peaked
in 1995 at $950 per ton due to a poor harvest year. Price variability is mainly attributed to fluctuations in production.
The United States is a net exporter of plums. Total export volume has fluctuated, peaking at 160 million pounds in 1997 and plummeting to 81 million pounds in 2004. In 2010, plum exports declined to 518,081 pounds. Likewise, the total value of plum exports declined to $71.4 million in 2010. (FAS)
Canada continued to be the largest export market for U.S. plums in 2010, purchasing plums valued at $28.8 million. Exports to that country remained relatively stable. The other top importers included: Hong Kong ($10.0 million), Mexico ($9.3 million) and Taiwan ($8.9 million). (FAS)
Fresh plum exports exceeded imports by $32.4 million in 2010. As it has since 2008, the total value of U.S. plum imports continued to drop, falling to $39.0 million.
Chile provides nearly all of the imported plums, $38.7 million in 2010, which accounts for 99 percent of the total. The majority of plum imports enter the United States between January 1 and May 31, the off season for U.S. plum production. (FAS)
California Tree Fruit Agreement (CTFA).
Food Consumption (per capita) Data System, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA.
Fruit and Tree Nuts Yearbook, ERS, USDA, 2011.
Noncitrus Fruits and Nuts Summary, National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS), USDA, 2011.
Plums, Global Ag Trade System, FASonline, USDA.