In 2000, vegetable and melon consumption is projected to exceed the 1999 record high. On a per capita basis, the USDA says the total is expected to remain near last year's level. Reduced fresh-market use is expected to be offset by increases in canning vegetables and potatoes.

Fresh-market use will likely decline about 1 percent as growers and shippers reduce production in response to financial losses caused by low shipping-point prices the previous year. However, canning use is forecast to rise about 3 percent, led by an increase in processed tomato products.

Shipping-point prices for fresh-market vegetables have been on a roller coaster during 2000. In the first half of the year, prices received by U.S. commercial vegetable and melon growers averaged 1 percent less than a year earlier and 8 percent below 2 years ago.

California weather Continuing a general slide that began in the spring of 1999, shipping-point prices for fresh-market vegetables during the first quarter averaged 13 percent below a year earlier and were the lowest since 1986. Unusually cool, wet weather in central California interfered with the production of many vegetables, and the resulting jump in second-quarter prices nearly offset the sharp first quarter decline. Second-quarter prices averaged the third highest on record for that quarter.