Per capita vegetable and melon disappearance (also referred to as use or consumption) is forecast to rise 1 percent to 445 pounds this year.

Increased consumption is expected for most major categories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including fresh, canning, and freezing vegetables.

Among the top five vegetables, increases are expected for potatoes, tomatoes, sweet corn, and lettuce, while per capita use of onions is expected to decline, given smaller spring and summer crops this year. A small reduction is also expected for dry edible beans as 2003 production declines.

Canned and frozen vegetables are expected to rise 1 to 2 percent as the economy begins to improve, output remains strong, and prices remain soft. Both fresh (table stock) and processing potato uses are expected to rise in 2003 as retail prices for fresh-market and frozen potato products average below year-earlier levels.

Fresh market up

During the first 6 months of 2003, shipping-point prices (a proxy for grower prices) averaged 22 percent below the record-highs of a year earlier as generally good weather during the first quarter led to good supplies and low prices for most leafy crops. After the first quarter of 2003 averaged 44 percent below a year earlier, spells of cool, wet weather afflicted most growing areas, slowing growth, disrupting harvest schedules, and pushing second-quarter fresh-market prices 17 percent above a year earlier.

In 2002, shipping-point prices for fresh-market vegetables and melons increased 9 percent from a year earlier. All of the gain came during the first and last quarters as shipping-point prices averaged 52 percent above a year earlier during January-March and 7 percent higher during October-December.

Cold temperatures in the primary winter producing regions of California and Arizona interfered with the production and marketing of leafy crops such as lettuce and broccoli. Following these winter price surges, fresh-market prices during April-September then averaged 12 percent below a year earlier, reflecting the generally favorable weather that prevailed last spring and summer.

Price expectations

For the year, lower shipping-point prices for asparagus (down 21 percent), celery (down 10 percent), and cantaloupe (down 7 percent) were outweighed by higher prices for broccoli (up 21 percent), head lettuce (up 20 percent), and cauliflower (up 12 percent).

In 2003, retail prices for potatoes and most other fresh-market vegetables will likely average below a year ago, with the exception of tomatoes. Consumer prices for fresh-market tomatoes are expected to average 3-5 percent higher due largely to weather-reduced yields over the first-half of the year.

Processors of five major vegetables (tomatoes, sweet corn, snap beans, green peas, and cucumbers for pickles) have contracted 1.28 million acres in 2003 — up 1 percent from the comparable producing states of a year ago.

Area earmarked for both canning and freezing-type vegetables is expected to decline (for comparable states) from a year ago. Area for tomatoes, the largest single processing vegetable, will be 4 percent lower than a year ago as lackluster wholesale prices, continued weakness in the world economy, and the prospect of larger world supplies in the coming year prompted processors to scale back earlier intentions.

Contract area for comparable states was greater for green peas (up 3 percent) and cucumbers for pickles (up 22 percent), but lower for snap beans (down 12 percent) and sweet corn (down 4 percent).

Coming season

Assuming average acreage losses and trend yields this coming season, USDA says output of the five leading processing vegetables could be down 3 to 5 percent from a year ago and total nearly 16 million short tons. Output of canning vegetables could fall 3 to 5 percent in 2003, while output for freezing could decline 2 to 4 percent. Average retail prices for processed vegetables (frozen, canned, and dried) increased less than 1 percent during the first six months of 2003, reflecting a combination of the slow economy and higher marketing costs.

This summer (largely July-September), fresh-market vegetable (excluding melons) area for harvest is forecast to decline 2 percent from a year earlier to 308,100 acres. For the most part, increased area for sweet corn, broccoli, and cauliflower was outweighed by reductions in crops such as head lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, and cabbage. Reduced summer area follows an increase in both winter and spring vegetable area

Growers in California, accounting for 48 percent of this year's summer-season vegetable and melon area (unchanged from a year earlier), reduced acreage 1 percent. New York, the second leading summer-season producer, with 12 percent of acreage, expects to harvest 7 percent less area than a year ago, due largely to yet another unusually cool, wet spring which hindered planting.

With U.S. fresh-market area lower and yields in many areas struggling to maintain the average of the past few years, market volume will likely remain below that of a year ago. Assuming some pickup in economic activity, summer-season fresh-market vegetable prices are likely to average about one-tenth above the lows of the past year.

System aids cotton

Non-inversion deep tillage — a form of conservation tillage that alleviates soil compaction while maintaining a crop residue cover on the soil — can increase yields of cotton more than 20 percent, according to studies by Agricultural Research Service scientists in Auburn, Ala.

Agricultural Research Service pest management research is the focus of the June issue of the scientific journal Pest Management Science. More than 200 ARS researchers from 16 states published papers in the special issue, on subjects ranging from biological control of pests to tracking agricultural chemical runoff in surface water.

The journal is available online at: http://www.interscience.wiley.com/jpages/1526-498X/

To address the problem of dietary iron deficiency, food producers enrich flour, maize and rice with iron and fortify breakfast cereals with this essential mineral. Yet USDA notes there is little research on the absorption and utilization — also called bioavailability — of the various iron sources used to fortify foods today.

How many kernels of wheat in a pound? Anywhere from 14,000 to 17,000.

It is reported that more than 87 percent of America's farmers own cell phones.

On average, agriculture uses about 43 percent of the state's available water.

Horseradish received the seal of approval from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute because it gives ordinary foods a healthy shot of flavor. Low in calories, sodium and fat, horseradish contains 60 percent of allylisothiocynate, which protects against Listeria, E. coli and Staphyloccus arueus.

Forty-five percent of American adults eat Asian foods at least once a month. Thai food is the fastest-growing segment of international cuisine. For a wine to compliment the textures and complex interplay of salt, sweet and sour flavors, a “quiet” reisling, sauvignon blanc or cabernet works well.

How far can a bee carry pollen? At least two-thirds of a mile, according to researchers.

Alfalfa got its name from the Persian word for horsepower.

Farmers make about a nickel or less from each loaf of bread.

California's 2,300 dairy farms house 1.4 million milk cows. Or, to put it more simply, about one out of seven U.S. dairy cows lives in California.