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Fresh vegetable use declines

Domestic use of all vegetables in the United States declined by 3 percent in 2006, to 428 pounds per capita, with most of the reduction due to lower use of head lettuce and processed tomatoes, according to the latest USDA Vegetables and Melons Outlook.

The use of fresh-market vegetables — including melons, potatoes, sweet potatoes and mushrooms — totaled about 222 pounds per capita, down 1 percent from a year earlier. Fresh use rose for crops such as asparagus, snap beans, cabbage, cauliflower, bell peppers, garlic and romaine and leaf lettuce but fell for head lettuce, spinach, celery, onions, pumpkins and tomatoes.

The acreage for 11 U.S. fresh-market vegetables is forecast to decline by 3 percent to 200,700 acres this spring, with the season running from April through June. Prospective plantings are down for most crops, with the greatest percentage declines for snap beans, carrots and celery, according to the report.

Given the reduced acreage and assuming normal weather, U.S. spring-season grower/shipper prices for commercial fresh-market vegetables are expected to average about one tenth above the low levels of a year earlier.

Spring melon acreage is expected to decline by 2 percent from a year ago, with cantaloupes down 4 percent and watermelon 1 percent lower. Cantaloupe area is expected to be down 800 acres in Georgia, while Florida watermelon growers will harvest 700 fewer acres. California, which accounts for more than half of spring vegetable area, expects to harvest 3 percent fewer acres with much of this reduction due to sweet corn, carrots and head lettuce. January freeze damage to early California plantings delayed the spring harvest for several crops, but subsequent growing weather has largely been favorable.

Florida, where spring vegetable growth was slowed by cold, wet February weather, is expected to harvest nearly one-third of spring area for the 11 selected crops. Florida’s area is expected to drop by 2 percent from a year ago due largely to lower area for snap beans (down 10 percent) and sweet corn (down 2 percent).

Area for tomatoes, which annually accounts for about one-third of Florida’s $1.5 billion in vegetable cash receipts, is expected to fall about 2 percent to 17,200 acres, reflecting weak prices last spring. Florida, which accounts for the majority of the domestic cucumbers produced during the spring, is expected to harvest 11 percent more acreage, spurred by strong prices over the past several months.

During the first two months of 2007, the volume of fresh vegetable imports (excluding potatoes and melons) increased by 2 percent from a year earlier. Import volume declined for fresh market tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers due largely to the impact of cool, wet weather on Mexican crops.


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