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Revised, August 2021.
Carrots are a member of the Apiaceae (formerly called Unbelliferae) family, which also includes celery, anise, dill, and cilantro. They are a biennial crop, producing their taproot the first year, and, if left to grow, would flower, set seed and die the second year. Although most all the carrots marketed in the United States today are orange, other colors such as red, yellow, or purple can occasionally be found in various fresh, frozen, and juice products. All carrots can be eaten root to tip, with the leaves often added to salads.
Carrots are primarily consumed fresh and are the 6th most consumed fresh vegetable in the U.S. Consumption of fresh carrots peaked in 1997 at 14.1 pounds per person and since then has dropped off and settled into a stable amount of approximately 7.71 pounds per person in 2020 (Vegetable and Pulses Outlook, 2020). There was another slight peak in U.S. Consumption of fresh carrots in 2018 at 12.2 pounds per person, but has dropped significantly in the past two years. In contrast, consumption of frozen carrots averaged 1.5 pounds per person.
Carrots are very high in beta carotene, and also contain Vitamin C, Vitamin K, potassium, other vitamins and minerals, and dietary fiber. In this century, carrots have become a popular cooking vegetable, salad item, snack food, and raw vegetable.
The upsurge in carrot popularity came after 1986 with the introduction of "baby-cut" carrots, which are packaged petite carrots made by chopping down and polishing much larger versions of the vegetable. "Baby carrots" are actually very young carrots that are harvested while the vegetables are still quite tiny. Baby-cut carrot products have been the fastest growing segment of the carrot industry since the early 1990s and are among the most popular produce items in the supermarket aisle.
Approximately 6.3 percent of the fresh carrots supply in 2015 was exported. Imports totaled 385 million pounds. Major carrot imports come from Canada and Mexico.
Carrots, a cool-season crop that is always direct seeded. Roots attain optimal color when the air temperature is 60º to 70ºF (18º to 21ºC). Although carrots are available throughout the year, locally grown carrots are in season in the summer and fall when they are the freshest and most flavorful. Fresh market carrots were harvested from 69,700 acres in 2020 with a total yield of approximately 3.4 billion pounds. (USDA, National Ag Statistics Service, 2020). Carrots are grown in and shipped year-round from California, with four main production regions. California produces over 85 percent of all carrots grown in the United States. Michigan, and Texas are other important carrot-producing states. Average fresh carrot yield per acre in 2020 was approximately 50,000 pounds.
Prices received for fresh carrots are typically higher than prices received for carrots for processing. The 2020 season average U.S. price for fresh carrots was $28.90 per cwt, up over the previous three years and 33 percent higher than ten years ago.
Based on most recent production and price averages, the estimated gross value for fresh market carrot production is $10,600 per acre. The costs of carrot production vary depending the production location and the level of mechanization. Following the mid-March shutdown of much of the economy due to the pandemic, April fresh import volume dropped 10 percent from the 3-year average on the collapse of foodservice and institutional demand. However, once strong retail demand emerged and the market adjusted, imports again resumed their upward trend, averaging a 13 percent monthly gain over the 3-year average between May and September.