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How potatoes rule the US, in 2 charts

Competition between potato and sweet potato production in the US isn't even close.
Competition between potato and sweet potato production in the US isn't even close.
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If you've ever wondered about the enduring popularity of some of America's quintessential crops like squash or pumpkins, the US Department of Agriculture has surprisingly detailed data, with some records dating back to 1868.

Whether they're fried or mashed, potatoes remain a staple in the American diet, with potatoes accounting for 15 percent of vegetable farm sales.

Even though sweet potatoes are currently experiencing an uptick in popularity largely thanks to their nutritional benefits, potato remains king among American farmers. More than 44 billion pounds of potatoes were harvested in 2015, compared with just a little under 3 billion pounds of sweet potatoes.

One of the reasons potatoes continue to be such a dominant part of the American diet is that we're constantly inventing new ways to eat them. Starting in 1970, processed potato products surpassed raw potatoes in sales, and consumption of fresh potatoes fell from a high of 81 pounds per person in 1960 to an average of 42 pounds by the 2000s.

But potato production has continued to increase as people find different ways to get their potato fix. On average, Americans now consume 55 pounds of frozen potatoes per year in addition to 17 pounds of potato chips.

And pumpkin and squash don't come even close to sweet potato production in the US

Potatoes' distant vegetable relatives, squash and pumpkin (or eggplant, which is closely related), are not nearly as popular with Americans, but pumpkin production has steadily increased in recent years from a little less than 1 billion pounds in 2000 to a little more than 1.3 billion in 2014.

But in 2015, pumpkin production in the US hit a 15 year low, falling by more than 40 percent to 753.8 million pounds. The USDA attributed the drop in pumpkins to reduced acreage in Illinois, the leading producer of pumpkins in the US.

Squash production, on the other hand, has plateaued in recent years, hovering around 600 million pounds annually.

Yams — those oft-misunderstood tubers — aren't even important enough to be measured by the USDA as an agricultural commodity. But Vox's Joss Fong will tell you a little bit more about its confusing history.