Bell and Chili Peppers
Revised, October 2018.
Bell and chile peppers are members of the same plant family as tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes. They are unrelated to the spice pepper plant that produces the seasoning ground black pepper. The most popular mild peppers are the bell and banana varieties. There are many types and varieties of chile (hot) peppers with varying degree of pungency or “hotness.” U.S. consumption of fresh bell peppers averaged 11.4 pounds per person in 2017, up six percent from 2015, and 7.7 pounds per person of chile peppers in 2017, up from eight percent 2015. (ERS 2018).
Bell peppers color up as they ripen on the vine and follow the mature green stage. The brighter colored peppers tend to be sweeter than green peppers because the sugar content increases as the pepper matures. Bell peppers are high in vitamin C. Peppers are also excellent sources of dietary fiber and provide small amounts of several other vitamins and minerals.
Produced and marketed year round, bell peppers are usually sold as fresh produce.
The majority of bell peppers produced in the United States are still grown in the field using drip irrigation and mulch. In addition to field-grown peppers, smaller volumes of domestically-produced, greenhouse-grown bell peppers are also available throughout the year. A typical field of fresh-market peppers is harvested by hand every week or so over the course of about four to six weeks.
Most of the crop is sold as mature green peppers, but growers receive a premium for a limited amount of other colors. The premium reflects the fact that bright-colored bell peppers (red, yellow, orange, purple, brown and black) are more costly to produce (field losses are higher and yields are lower) than those harvested at the green stage.
In 2017, approximately 1.6 million pounds of bell peppers for fresh market were grown on approximately 43,300 acres with a crop valued at $642 million. Total chile pepper production in 2017 was 4.7 million pounds on a total of 18,900 acres, valued at $143 million (NASS, 2017). Although peppers are grown on a large number of farms across the U.S., in 2017, California produced 47 and 64 percent of the fresh market bell peppers and chile peppers, respectively, grown in the U.S.
The average yield of bell peppers in 2017 was 38,000 cwt/ acre and chile peppers averaged 25,00 pounds per acre.
According to the USDA Economic Research Service, in 2016, only 5.3 percent of bell peppers produced in the U.S. were exported in 2016, however, 60.2 percent of bell peppers utilized in the U.S. were imported.
In 2017, the average national price for bell peppers was $48.70 per hundredweight and $40.10 for chile peppers (NAAS, 2018).
Based on most recent production and price averages, the estimated gross value per acre is approximately $17,350 for bell and $11,300 for chile peppers. The costs of production of peppers are expensive for inputs, such as transplants, mulch and irrigation, and labor-intensive, especially for harvest and post-harvest handling and packaging.
Vegetables, 2017 Summary (USDA NASS, 2018)
Vegetable and Pulses Outlook (USDA ERS, 2018)
Chicago Terminal Market Prices (USDA AMS)
Bell Pepper, (Vegetable Research and Information Center, University of California Cooperative Extension)
Chile Pepper, (Vegetable Research and Information Center, University of California Cooperative Extension)
Growing Chiles in New Mexico, New Mexico State University, 2004.