| Fruit and vegetable imports are creating a tide of red ink on the U.S. trade balance sheet.
The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture trade forecast projects fresh fruit and vegetable imports at $13.6 billion for fiscal year 2012, up from $12.8 billion the previous year.
The USDA forecasts fruit and vegetable exports at $6.9 billion for fiscal year 2012 (Oct. 1 to Sept. 30), up from $6.64 billion a year ago.
If the USDA forecasts are accurate, the trade deficit for fresh fruits and vegetables will be $6.7 billion for fiscal 2012, up from $6.2 billion for 2011.
USDA statistics show leading fresh produce imports items by value in calendar year 2011 included tomatoes ($2.13 billion), bananas ($1.98 billion), grapes ($1.03 billion), berries ($1.02 billion) and peppers ($933 million).
Top U.S. exports of fresh fruits and vegetables in 2011 included apples ($942 million), oranges and tangerines ($718 million), berries ($647 million), lettuce ($465 million) and grapefruit ($178 million).
For all agricultural exports -- including meat, grains and other products -- the U.S. is still projected to enjoy a $27 billion trade surplus for fiscal year 2012, but that is down from the record $42.9 billion surplus in fiscal year 2011.