Area rises for processing vegetables, falls for fresh

by Ron Sterk
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KANSAS CITY — Contracted area for processing vegetables in 2009 is up 6% from a year ago while total area for fresh vegetables is down 6%, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in its July Vegetables report.

At the same time prices for both processing and fresh vegetables were up sharply in the first five months of 2009 compared with the same period last year, the department said in its latest Vegetables and Melons Outlook.

Contracted area includes the five major vegetables of sweet corn, snap beans, green peas, tomatoes and cucumbers for pickles. Total fresh area includes the 11 major vegetables: snap beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, sweet corn, cucumbers, head lettuce, bell peppers and tomatoes. Area for potatoes and onions is accounted for separately.

Area contracted for the five major processing vegetables was 1,231,650 acres, up 6% from 2008, the U.S.D.A. said. Area for canning vegetables was 839,750 acres, up 10% from 2008, while area for freezing vegetables declined 2%, to 391,900 acres.

Tomato area was 327,700 acres, up 11% from 2008, with area in California, where more than 90% of processing tomatoes are grown, up 14% at a record 308,000 acres. U.S. production was forecast at 13.9 million tons, up 14% from a year ago.

Area in 2009 for processing snap beans was 200,000 acres, down 2%, sweet corn was 393,850 acres, up 8%, cucumbers was 93,800 acres, up 19%, and green peas was 216,300 acres, about even with last year.

"After rising an average of 2% annually over the previous decade, wholesale prices for canned vegetables increased 8% in 2008 and are up 14% so far in 2009 — the largest January-May increase since 1989," the U.S.D.A. said. Prices also were higher for frozen and dehydrated vegetables for the period. "Higher prices for processed vegetables since last summer reflects escalating contract prices for raw vegetables and increased processing costs," the U.S.D.A. said.

Summer harvested area for the 11 major vegetables consumed fresh was forecast at 265,100 acres, down slightly from 2008 and down 4% from 2007. But total fresh vegetable area for the winter, spring and summer seasons combined was 675,500 acres, down 3% from 2008 and down 6% from 2007, the U.S.D.A. said. Winter area in 2009 was down 5% from 2008 and down 13% from 2007 while spring plantings were down 4% from both years.

Summer plantings in 2009 were up 6% for bell peppers, 3% for carrots, 8% for cucumbers, 10% for snap beans and 2% for sweet corn from last summer, while decreases of 2% were forecast for broccoli, 6% for cabbage, 8% for cauliflower, 3% for celery, 8% for head lettuce and 2% for tomatoes.

Grower or shipping-point prices for fresh vegetables in the first five months of 2009 were up 12% from the same period last year, the U.S.D.A. said, with head lettuce leading the way with a gain of 39%.

"Assuming average weather, fresh vegetable shipping point prices will likely be under downward pressure this summer as local supplies increase and food service demand remains weak," the U.S.D.A. said.

Retail prices for fresh vegetables in the January-May period were up 1% from a year ago, according to the Consumer Price Index from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Much of the increase was due to sharply higher potato prices, the U.S.D.A. said, which were only partly offset by lower tomato prices.

"With away-from-home food consumption on the rise, both field-grown tomatoes and potatoes have relied on rising food service demand for market growth and price strength over the past decade," the U.S.D.A. said. "During the winter and early spring, the recession weighed heavily on demand within the food service industry, likely pushing supply onto the retail market and sapping price strength."

Total onion harvested area was forecast at 151,510 acres in 2009, down 1% from 2008, the U.S.D.A. said. Summer storage onion area was seen at 106,810 acres, up 1%, summer non-storage onion area was 17,700 acres, down 9%, and spring onion area was 27,000 acres, down 5%.

In its July 10 Crop Production report, the U.S.D.A. forecast total 2009 harvested potato area at 1.05 million acres, up slightly from 2008. Grower prices in the first five months of calendar 2009 were up 16% from a year earlier, due to dwindling stocks and strong exports, the U.S.D.A. said, and were at record levels for the second consecutive year. Processing-type potato prices were up 12% for the period.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, July 21, 2009, starting on Page 17. Click here to search that archive.

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