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Research Project: Increasing Small-Farm Viability, Sustainable Production and Human Nutrition in Plant-Based Food Systems of the New England States

Location: Food Systems Research Unit

Title: A geospatial approach to identifying biophysically suitable areas for fruit and vegetable production in the United States

item MCCARTHY, ASHLEY - University Of Vermont
item SRINIVASAN, SUMEETA - Tufts University
item GRIFFIN, TIMOTHY - Tufts University
item Peters, Christian

Submitted to: Agronomy Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/18/2022
Publication Date: 6/6/2022
Citation: McCarthy, A., Srinivasan, S., Griffin, T., Peters, C.J. 2022. A geospatial approach to identifying biophysically suitable areas for fruit and vegetable production in the United States. Agronomy Journal.

Interpretive Summary: Most fruit and vegetable production in the U.S. occurs in a few key regions. These areas predominate, in part, because of favorable growing conditions. However, climate change and competition for natural resources threaten the ability of key production regions to continue expanding their agricultural output. Understanding the potential to expand production into new areas may be important to meeting future demand. To this end, geographic information systems were used to identify locations with suitable climate and soils for growing fruit and vegetable crops in the lower 48 States. The study found a tremendous area of land has suitable climate and soils for vegetables and temperate fruit crops, but less so for tropical and subtropical fruits. These results provide a starting point for identifying barriers to expanding fruit and vegetable output and opportunities for growth both within and beyond current production regions.

Technical Abstract: In the United States, the production of many fruits and vegetables (F&Vs) is concentrated in a few key regions and it may not be possible to maintain or increase output from these areas due to resource constraints and climate change. Developing new and more geographically diverse production systems may be necessary to meet food needs and adapt to changing conditions. This study developed geospatial models to identify land suitable for producing F&Vs across the U.S. based on biophysical constraints. We found tremendous potential to expand production nationally, identifying 822 million acres of suitable land; 47% of which is currently used for agriculture. Suitable land to produce most F&Vs exists across the U.S., indicating significant potential to geographically diversify production, though tropical and sub-tropical fruits are restricted to southern areas. These results provide a starting point for identifying opportunities to expand F&V production, reduce geographic concentration, and establish new supply chains.