By Hayley Boriss and Marcia Kreith, Agricultural Issues Center, University of California.
Reviewed August 2010 by Iowa State University.
Revised April 2012 by Lisa Jore, Associate Program Director, Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota.
Cabbage, a member of the cruciferous family that includes broccoli, mustard, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi and bok choy, is thought to have been domesticated as a crop in the Mediterranean region of Europe. It was originally valued by ancient Romans and Greeks as a medicinal for use with a variety of ailments including gout, headaches and ingestion of poisonous mushrooms (ERS 2002).
Today cabbage is primarily valued as a fresh market vegetable, although research continues on the value of the medicinal properties of cruciferous vegetables that have been found to aid in the prevention of cancer.
The U.S. cabbage industry is a domestically oriented market. The majority of cabbage is used in processing for coleslaw (45%), followed by fresh head cabbage (35%), sauerkraut (12%) and other fresh-cut products (5-10%). Fresh cabbage markets and sauerkraut markets are distinct, with the majority of sauerkraut grown under contract between grower and buyer (ERS 2002).
Cabbage demand is highest in the month of March, fueled by the Saint Patrick’s day holiday promoting the traditional corned beef and cabbage meal. December and February also remain high consumption months with lowest demand in the summer months. Although cabbage is harvested year round in California, some shippers in New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, where harvest is during early October through December, coldstore cabbage for up to 6 months to market their late-season harvests the following summer (ERS 2002).
Per person consumption of fresh cabbage has never climbed back to the 22 pounds per capita seen in the 1920s, and consumption has been relatively stable over the last decade and a half, averaging 8.3 pounds per person in 2010 (Yearbook 2011). The lowest estimate of fresh cabbage consumption was 7.5 pounds per person in 2003. Domestic consumption of sauerkraut has also declined, from 2.3 pounds per capita in 1970 to .8 pounds in 2010 (Yearbook 2011). Factors that have helped cabbage consumption from slipping further include the marketing of fresh-cut products, including coleslaw products; the use of red cabbage in fresh-cut salad mixes; increased use in new recipes; and marketing toward health-conscious consumers (ERS).
Commercial production of fresh market cabbage can be found in every state, but the top producing states are typically California, New York, Florida, Texas and Georgia. In 2010, California accounted for 13,200 of the 69,500 harvested acres of cabbage in the United States. The top three states--California, New York and Florida--produced a combined 12 million cwt, or 53 percent of the 2009 cabbage crop (Agricultural Statistics Manual, 2010).
In 2010, the United States produced over 22.8 million cwt of fresh cabbage, which was valued at just over $379 million (Yearbook 2011). According to the USDA’s 2007 Census of Agriculture data (2009), the number of U.S. cabbage farms increased by about 300 farms between 2002 and 2007, with a total of 4,086 cabbage farms in 2007.
China remained the leading producer of cabbage in 2009, followed by India and South Korea. The United States ranked 8th in terms of production, behind Japan, Russia, Poland and Indonesia (FAOSTAT 2011).
Prices for fresh market cabbage have been variable. Prices decreased most dramatically between 1984 and 1990, from a high of $17.59 per hundredweight to a low of $9.44. In 2009, the average inflation-adjusted domestic price for fresh-market cabbage was $15.30 per cwt. (Agricultural Statistics Manual, 2010).
The majority of exported U.S. cabbage consists of fresh cabbage. In 2010, more than 27,235 metric tons (MT) of fresh cabbage valued at $20.4 million were exported. Most of the United States crop is exported to Canada, which purchased more than 24,557 MT in 2010 (FAS 2011).
Imports of fresh cabbage totaled 62,024 MT and were valued at $27.4 million in 2010 (FAS 2011). The largest sources of cabbage imports were Canada and Mexico. Imports from Canada in 2010 accounted for 65 percent of total cabbage imports, while Mexican imports accounted for 34 percent of the total (FAS 2011). Typically, fresh cabbage makes up the majority of imports.
2010 Agricultural Statistics Annual, National Agricultural Statistics Services, USDA, 2010.
Cabbage, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)Stat, United Nations.
Food Availability, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA.
Food and Agricultural Commodities Production, FAOSTAT, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, 2011.
Fresh-Market Cabbage, ERS, USDA, 2002.
Global Agricultural Trade System, Foreign Ag Service, USDA, 2011.
Head Cabbage; Vegetables, Potatoes, and Melons Harvested for Sale: 2007 and 2002; 2007 Census of Agriculture; National Ag Statistics Service (NASS), USDA; 2009.
The History of Cabbage, University of Saskatchewan.
Vegetables, Potatoes and Melons Harvested for Sale: 2007 and 2002, 2007 Census of Agriculture - State Data, NASS, USDA, 2009.
Created February 2006 and updated April 2012.