Spring potato production for 2003 is forecast at 23.7 million hundredweight (cwt), up 2 percent from last year. Area for harvest is estimated at 83,800 acres, down 3 percent from last year but 10 percent above 2001. Per-acre yields are forecast to average 282 cwt, up 4 percent from a year ago.

A 6 percent increase in U.S. potato production last fall, combined with a 15 percent increase in Canadian production, has put downward pressure on grower prices. As a result, U.S. grower prices for potatoes during September through March averaged 3 percent below year-earlier levels.

Fresh-market prices are down 5 percent from year-earlier levels for September through February. Including asparagus and onions, selected fresh-market vegetable area for harvest was forecast to decline 1 percent to 309,600 acres this spring season (largely April-June).

California down

California, which accounts for 51 percent of spring area, expects to harvest 2 percent fewer acres, with the entire reduction due to asparagus (down 15 percent), carrots (8 percent), and tomatoes (5 percent). Assuming average weather, spring fresh market vegetable prices are currently expected to average near or below those of a year earlier.

U.S. per capita use of melons totaled 27.5 pounds in 2002, down 3 percent from a year earlier. Cantaloupe use rose 1 percent to 11.3 pounds per person in 2002 — second only to the 1999 record of 11.5 pounds and 29 percent greater than the 1990-92 average.

Reflecting reduced production (as growers reacted to a string of low prices during 1999-2001), watermelon use fell 8 percent to 13.9 pounds per person in 2002. Per capita use of honeydew melons rose 11 percent to 2.2 pounds, recovering losses in 2001 caused by reduced production.

Contract acreage for the five leading processing vegetables (tomatoes, sweet corn, snap beans, green peas, and cucumbers) is expected to remain about even with a year earlier at 1.28 million acres. Assuming yields remain near the average of the previous three seasons, production of the 11 selected processing vegetables could decline 1 percent from a year earlier to 17 million short tons — 4 percent above the 2000-02 average.

U.S. dry bean growers have indicated they intend to plant fewer beans in 2003 — acreage is expected to decline 21 percent to 1.52 million. This drop is in response to weak grower prices stemming from last year's large crop and stagnant domestic and export demand.

U.S. sweet potato growers intend to plant 93,500 acres in 2003, down 4 percent from last year and 5 percent below 2001 for comparable states. The area reduction comes despite relatively strong grower prices at the national level for the short 2002 crop.