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Tomato and pepper prices ease, potato prices flat

The fresh-market tomato and bell pepper markets cooled considerably in December with the resumption of near "normal" shipment volume from Florida after 2 months of strong prices caused largely by weather-reduced shipments from Florida, California, and Mexico.

Fresh tomato f.o.b. shipping-point prices averaged 71.1 cents per pound in October and 99.0 cents in November 2004, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The November average price was 225 percent above a year earlier and the highest level for any month since the record high of January 1990 ($1.16 per pound).

With December revisions, the November price will likely exceed the record high.

The December U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimate of U.S. fall-season potato production is 409.8 million hundredweight — down less than 1 percent from 2003. Although fall area harvested is 6 percent smaller than last year, yield per acre is up 6 percent from 376 to 399 hundredweight. The season average price for the 2004 U.S. potato crop is expected to approximate last year’s $5.89 per hundredweight, and not exceed $6 for the second straight year.

Subdued demand, higher yields, and smaller acreage have each contributed to weak prices.

Dry beans

The December estimate of the 2004 U.S. dry edible bean crop indicated a decline of 19 percent from a year ago to 18.1 million hundredweight — the smallest crop since 1983. With reduced acreage, and rain and frost-affected yields, North Dakota’s 4.8 million hundredweight crop was the state’s smallest since 1993, with notable reductions in the top two crops — pinto beans (down 39 percent) and navy beans (down 44 percent). U.S. navy bean production continues to trend lower, reaching a record low (the previous low was in 1921) this fall due to a 21-percent reduction in yields.

According to USDA estimates, production of dry peas and lentils surged to a record high in 2004. Production of dry edible peas (green and yellow) jumped 108 percent to 10.8 million hundredweight, exceeding 1943’s record 10.0 million. This increase was driven by a 52 percent increase in area harvested and 37 percent higher yields. Production of lentils rose 67 percent to 4.1 million hundredweight due to a combination of a 36 percent rise in U.S. lentil acreage and a 23 percent gain in yields. November prices ran 15-20 percent below a year earlier for dry peas.

Value to grow

The value of U.S. production of vegetables and melons is forecast to grow at an annual rate of 2.5 percent over the next decade, reaching close to $20 billion in fiscal year 2014 from $16 billion in 2005.

The volume of U.S. vegetable and melon production is expected to increase from 130 billion pounds in 2005 to more than 141 billion pounds by 2014, a rate of increase roughly equal to the growth of the U.S. population.

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