Over the first five months of 2011, fresh-market vegetable prices at the point of first sale averaged 15 percent above a year earlier, according to the latest USDA Vegetables and Melons Outlook.

Higher prices for vegetable crops such as head lettuce, carrots, celery, cucumbers, broccoli and cauliflower easily outweighed lower prices for bulb onions, snap beans, tomatoes and sweet corn.

Although averaging 13 percent below a year earlier, tomato prices remained strong during January through May as cold weather again reduced supplies and delayed harvests.

This was the third consecutive year of double-digit price increases during this time period for fresh-market vegetables and the fifth in the past seven years. Much of these increases reflect the frequency of weather-related supply disruptions during the winter months (January-March) — a time when supplies are much more regionally concentrated.

Fresh-vegetable prices averaged below a year earlier during April and May and are expected to remain below a year earlier in June as supplies slowly improve. As a result, spring-season (April-June) fresh-vegetable prices are expected to average about a tenth below the highs experienced a year earlier.

Early spring market volume was reduced and delayed by both the February U.S. West Coast/Mexican freeze and the slow start to the spring season caused by below-normal temperatures in many growing areas, including California and the Southeastern states.

With growing-degree days below average in most areas of the state, California remained cool this spring following a cooler-than-normal growing season in 2010. This has resulted in harvest delays of one to two weeks for crops such as tomatoes and melons.

In the Salinas area, temperatures have averaged near normal but heavy rains earlier in the planting season may result in intermittent supply gaps into early July for crops such as head lettuce, broccoli and celery.