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USDA reports show acreage, price declines

Harvested acreage for many major fresh market summer vegetables is expected to be down 6 percent, as relatively flat markets and rising input costs push growers into more profitable crops such as strawberries.

The recent report by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service projects harvest of summer vegetables for fresh market at 282,400 acres, down 6 percent from last year. The biggest declines were in many Salinas Valley staple vegetable crops, including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and head lettuce.

Harvested cauliflower acreage is expected to drop 2 percent, at 8,600 acres, although crops have enjoyed ideal growing conditions with few pest and disease problems. Broccoli is forecast down about 3 percent to 32,000 acres.

Head lettuce for summer harvest in California is forecast at 40,000 acres, down 7 percent from last year. San Joaquin Valley summer vegetables, including tomatoes and melons were also down.

Cantaloupe harvest was delayed in California’s Central Valley when cool temperatures slowed fruit growth, with some growers losing their first melon planting due to a mid-April frost. The U.S. summer cantaloupe harvest is forecast at 34,000 acres, down 7 percent from 2007; honeydew is down 6 percent; and watermelon down 9 percent to 62,900 acres. Offsetting those declines in SJV acreage is an estimated 4-percent increase in fresh-market carrot acreage to 21,600 acres.

In the Salinas Valley, crops were reported to be running on schedule, except some strawberries slightly behind schedule due to a shortage of transplants and lack of chilling hours on those. Central Coast lettuce harvests were slightly ahead of schedule, after catching up from a 10- to 14-day lag brought on by cold weather in April and May.

Markets were generally soft but steady for most coastal vegetable crops. Demand for crown cut broccoli the first week of August was reported light, with wholesale prices ranging from $6 to $9 a carton. Cauliflower demand also dropped considerably to $10.50 to $12.50 f.o.b. Head lettuce held firm at about $9 to $11, depending on size and quality, while the market for romaine was strong, particularly for hearts, though down from the peak of $15 to $18 in mid-July.

Growers reported that strawberry markets in the Salinas Valley had firmed somewhat, due in part to hiccups in the harvest.

A mid-April frost in San Joaquin Valley canning tomato regions has put the overall crop slightly behind schedule. With an estimated 277,000 contracted acres, overall processing tomato acreage is expected to be 7 percent less than in 2007, at 12.2 million tons.

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