This fall (primarily October through December), U.S. growers intend to harvest 5 percent fewer acres of fresh-market vegetables and melons than a year ago.

Reduced area reflects low shipping-point prices last fall and periodically this year, according to the USDA.

Fresh-market vegetable prices during the first quarter of 2000 were the lowest since 1986, because excellent yields and higher acreage led to oversupply. However, growers reacted to these low prices and those of 1999 by lowering acreage over the next three-quarters of 2000. The resulting reduction in market shipments helped fresh vegetable prices to rise in the spring. Shipping-point prices reached record-high levels during the summer as cool, wet conditions in eastern states and erratic weather (temperature extremes, untimely rain) in California delayed harvests and reduced yields.

Winter forecast The Economic Research Service forecast for the winter 2001 season (January-March) suggests fresh-market vegetable acreage will be reduced from a year earlier. With last winters financial losses still fresh in their minds, growers and shippers have likely taken note of the positive effects that acreage reductions have had on market prices during the spring, summer, and fall seasons, the service says.

With shipments expected to decline this winter, fresh vegetable shipping-point prices are likely to average above the lows experienced a year earlier.

Per capita use of all vegetables and melons is forecast to reach a record 459 pounds in 2000 - up 2 percent from 1999. Most of this gain will come from processed products and potatoes. Higher prices and reduced output could result in a slight decline (around 1 percent) in per capita use of fresh-market vegetables and melons for 2000. Fresh use (excluding potatoes, sweet potatoes, and mushrooms) is forecast to total about 165 pounds per person. Adding fresh-market potatoes, mushrooms, and all sweet potatoes would bring fresh vegetable and melon use to about 223 pounds in 2000 - 49 percent of total vegetable and melon use.

Use of leaf and romaine lettuce, cabbage, bell peppers, asparagus, and watermelon is expected to rise, offsetting decreases for head lettuce, broccoli, carrots, and sweet corn.

According to delivery information from the California Tomato Advisory Board, 10.28 million tons of tomatoes (contract and open market) were delivered to processors in the state this season. Adding an estimated 0.5 million tons from other states would result in a total U.S. processing tomato crop of 10.8 million tons - down 14 percent from the record crop of 1999 and just above the 10.6-million-ton average of the 1990s.