A strong and steady supply of fresh-market vegetables is causing price reductions for growers, according to the latest Vegetables and Pulses Outlook report from USDA’s Economic Research Service.

Despite a January freeze in parts of Florida, shipments of fresh-market vegetables remained strong in early 2012, with prices significantly lower for most products, states the report.

The January cold weather was most severe in northern and central Florida, while the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean mitigated low temperatures in more coastal areas.

“There was limited damage to vegetables, although volumes were somewhat reduced in early February,” according to the outlook. Market impacts were mild compared to previous years.

The 2012 weather events came early and were of shorter duration, at a time when much of the Florida vegetable production was still in more southern areas.

While it is expected that demand for fresh vegetables will continue a “slow growth” as consumers continue to improve their diets, prices are not expected to climb, which doesn’t bode well for growers in the short term.

Assuming there is no freeze damage during the spring, the seasonal price outlook “strongly favors prices well below those of a year ago,” according to the USDA report.

January 2012 shipments of many fresh-market vegetables were relatively similar (within 5 percent) to their January 2011 levels.

Exceptions were sweet corn and tomatoes (notably greenhouse production), which increased 49 and 18 percent, respectively. Shipments of greens and green onions also increased compared with the previous year.

When compared with December 2011 figures, cauliflower, bell peppers and tomato shipments increased significantly while shipments of snap beans and greens saw the greatest decrease.

Asparagus shipments rebounded to more normal levels after the very low volumes reported for November and December 2011.

With volumes up, grower prices for most fresh-market vegetables were down 25 to 50 percent in the first quarter of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011. The largest decreases were seen in field tomatoes and iceberg lettuce.

First-quarter dry onion and snap bean prices remained slightly above their 2011 levels.