This fall, the top five fresh vegetables in terms of market volume (excluding potatoes and onions) are expected to be head lettuce, carrots, celery, tomatoes and broccoli. Head lettuce area is down 4 percent with average yields expected this fall.

After a difficult winter featuring weather-driven high prices, June-October grower prices for head lettuce averaged below a year earlier and the average of the three previous years. A consistently cool California summer favoring good yields, competition from locally grown greens, and sluggish consumer demand kept downward price pressure on the California head lettuce market all summer.

With regional suppliers finished for the year, smaller fall area in prospect, transitions from coastal to inland growing areas, and the ever-present threat of unsettled fall weather, grower prices for head lettuce may turn higher from their summer seasonal lows.

However, given average yields and continued tepid consumer demand, fall head lettuce prices are expected to remain below those of a year earlier.

Spurred in part by lower prices last fall, fall tomato area is expected to drop 2 percent to 18,000 acres. Preliminary data indicate that harvested area in Florida is expected to remain steady, while acreage in California is expected to account for the entire 300-acre reduction.

Part of the drop in U.S tomato area likely will be offset by improved yields since there have been few weather extremes (cooler in California and minimal tropical storm activity in western Florida) during the fall growing period.

Florida’s fall tomato area continues to be eroded by lower-cost supplies from California and Mexico and strong retail competition with hothouse tomatoes.

Florida expects to harvest just 6,000 acres of fall tomatoes compared with a recent peak of 17,100 acres in 1999. Fresh-tomato movement increased this past summer largely on the strength of rising volume from greenhouse-grown products such as imported roma tomatoes from Mexico.

The winter outlook is largely dependent on whether freezing temperatures are felt in production areas for a third consecutive winter.

Assuming no extended periods of below-freezing temperatures reach Florida, the desert southwest, or western Mexico, greatly improved supplies will bring a substantial reduction (25 percent or more) in fresh-vegetable prices this winter.

phollis@farmpress.com