[Market-farming] Decline seen in U.S. fresh vegetable acreage

Leigh Hauter lh at pressroom.com
Thu May 26 08:40:09 EDT 2005

Decline seen in U.S. fresh vegetable acreage

May 19, 2005 10:11 AM
By Paul Hollis, Farm Press Editorial Staff

Fresh-market vegetable acreage in the United States is expected to 
decline by 4 percent for the 2005 spring season, to an estimated 
300,700 acres. The spring fresh-market vegetable season generally 
runs from April to June.

Florida, where crop growth has been slowed this spring by cool, wet, 
windy weather, is expected to harvest 23 percent of the U.S. spring 
vegetable area. Florida's acreage is expected to rise 2 percent from 
a year ago, led by bell peppers - up 7 percent - and tomatoes, which 
are up by 3 percent from 2004 levels. The rise in these crops is 
largely a reaction to modestly favorable prices this past spring, 
according to the latest USDA Vegetables and Melons Outlook.

Most of Florida's spring bell pepper crop is sold in April and May, 
with April volume accounting for nearly one-fourth of the state's 
annual output. Spring tomato production also is strongest during 
April and May in Florida, with spring acreage continuing to creep 
higher the past several years, reflecting improved demand, and the 
apparent success of the suspension agreement preventing the 
undercutting of U.S. prices when markets are low.

California, which accounts for 50 percent of spring vegetable area, 
expects to harvest 8 percent fewer acres this year with much of the 
reduction due to head lettuce (down 24 percent), asparagus (down 8 
percent), and broccoli (down 6 percent).

Cool, wet winter weather delayed planting and other field activity 
and slowed the growth of some spring crops in California and Arizona. 
If the cool, wet weather pattern continues along coastal California 
this spring, yields could be reduced and disease pressure increased, 
further trimming potential shipment volume, which already has been 
tightened by reduced acreage.

Spring onion shipping-point prices in 2004 averaged the second 
highest from the past 11 years. This helps explain why growers 
decided to plant 4 percent more area this year despite extremely low 
prices for the 2004-2005 fall storage season.

Georgia, which planted 7 percent fewer onions this year, expects 
average yields - after last year's record-high yields - and a smaller 
crop. Full-scale shipments of Georgia's Vidalia onions were scheduled 
to begin during the last week of April. Although the crop came 
through the winter in good condition, an early spring hailstorm 
reportedly damaged some acreage.

The Texas spring onion crop has the potential to reach record-high 
yields (335 cwt. per acre is projected) after a mild growing season. 
Despite the wet winter and spring, good yields are expected from 
California, even though the crop is two weeks late due to cool 

The combination of a relatively strong economy and good demand, lower 
harvested acreage, and weather-reduced yields may keep moderate 
upward pressure on fresh-market shipping-point prices this spring, 
according to the USDA report. Assuming average weather, spring season 
f.o.b. shipping-point prices for commercial fresh-market vegetables 
are expected to average 10 to 15 percent higher than a year earlier.

With Mexican volume also lower, prices likely will be firm through 
May after a lull through mid-April caused by the market vacuum left 
by an early Easter. The traditional Easter demand push came during 
late March this year versus early April last year, when Easter was on 
April 11. Higher prices are expected for most fresh-market vegetables 
this spring, with carrots being one of the few likely exceptions.

Winter weather generally began and ended with cool, wet spells in the 
West, but it was generally frost-free in the South. Despite cool, 
rainy periods, fresh vegetable shipment volume was up 2 percent 
during the winter quarter, running January through March. Coupled 
with demand-slowing above-average snowfall at times in major 
population centers, prices were under downward pressure much of the 

As a result, winter quarter shipping-point prices for fresh-market 
vegetables averaged about 13 percent below those of a year earlier 
but were 3 percent above the lows of two years ago. Despite lower 
shipping-point prices, first quarter fresh vegetable retail prices 
rose nearly 2 percent from a year earlier.

Per capita use of fresh-market vegetables and melons - excluding 
potatoes, sweet potatoes, pulses and mushrooms - increased 2 percent 
to a record 174 pounds in 2004, according to the latest USDA numbers. 
Disappearance totaled 51.2 billion pounds, also a record high. 
Excluding melons, per capita use of fresh vegetables rose 4 percent 
to nearly 150 pounds in 2004.

Per capita disappearance increased for spinach, cauliflower, onions, 
cabbage, and romaine and leaf lettuce. Per capita use declined for 
items such as garlic, asparagus, celery and tomatoes. In 2005, per 
capita fresh vegetable disappearance is expected to increase by about 
1 percent as the rising use of tomatoes, spinach, garlic and leaf and 
romaine lettuce outweighs potential reductions for onions, iceberg 
lettuce and carrots.

During the first two months of 2005, the volume of fresh vegetable 
imports - excluding potatoes and melons - increased by 6 percent 
compared with a year earlier. While items such as tomatoes and sweet 
corn were lower, most other imports, such as garlic and asparagus, 
rose. With the exception of greenhouse tomatoes - up 52 percent - 
fresh tomato imports were down across the board, falling 7 percent to 
430 million pounds.

On the export side of the ledger, the volume of fresh market 
vegetables and melons totaled 7 percent greater than during the first 
two months of 2004. The quantity of fresh vegetables to Canada (up 3 
percent) and Japan (83 percent) increased, while volume sent to 
Mexico fell 5 percent.

Combined, these three nations accounted for 94 percent of U.S. export 
volume. During the first two months of 2005, U.S. export volume 
increased for items such as onions - up 32 percent - leaf and romaine 
lettuce, and peppers.

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