Fall sweet corn acreage up 24 percent

The first estimate of U.S. fall-season potato production is 401 million hundredweight (cwt), down 14 percent from last year and the lowest since the fall of 1993.

The decline is due to an 8 percent decrease in harvested area and a 6 percent drop in yields from a year ago. Production was down in all major growing areas, as growers reduced acreage in reaction to last years low grower prices.

The reduced fall-season crop combined with smaller harvests this past winter, spring, and summer, puts total production for 2001 at 442 million cwt, 14 percent below the record 514 million cwt produced in 2000. Such a large decline in production will put strong upward pressure on grower prices for the 2001/02 marketing season.

This fall (largely October-December), fresh-market vegetable and melon area for harvest is forecast to rise 4 percent from a year ago. Fall area is forecast the same or higher for all items but cucumbers and watermelons.

The largest gains were for sweet corn (up 24 percent) and honeydew melons (up 23 percent). Increases in shipments of sweet corn will likely not match the rise in area, with yields in California expected to be lower due to increased pest pressure.

With normal weather, supplies should be more than adequate to meet expected lackluster demand. Given acreage, current weather, and yield trends, potential fall-season fresh vegetable and melon shipments could be 1 percent to 4 percent greater than a year ago. While potential supplies could be up, demand appears to have softened over the past few months, largely due to the weaker economy. As a result, fall-quarter grower prices are expected to remain below year-earlier levels.

The Economic Research Service (ERS) forecast for the winter 2002 season (January-March) suggests fresh-market vegetable acreage will rise slightly from a year earlier. The impact of weak prices this fall and slower economic activity (reducing foodservice demand) is expected to be offset by the effect of last winters record-high prices.

Last winter, shippers cut area 2 percent following the price-reducing effects of excess supplies in the winter of 1999/2000. This winter, average weather could allow market shipments to increase modestly from a year ago. The added volume could keep fresh vegetable shipping-point prices below the highs experienced a year earlier.

In terms of both farm value and per capita consumption, onions are one of the top five vegetables in the United States. Given expected higher prices for the 2001/02 crop, the farm value could equal or exceed that of a year ago, but remain well below the 1998 record of $838 million. Between $50 and $70 million of onion crop value will consist of processing onions, with the remainder reflecting fresh-market production.

The shipping-point price for fresh-market onions in September averaged 23 percent above the previous year. However, prices declined seasonally in October, averaging just 2 percent above a year earlier. The steep drop in prices reflected a bulge in supply caused by seasonal harvest volume and also a reduction in demand (largely in the foodservice sector and export market) reflecting a weakening global economy.

The value of fresh-market vegetable and melon imports (excluding potatoes) was up 21 percent from a year ago during the first eight months of 2001 (Jan.-Aug.). Much of the increase occurred during the first quarter. Tomatoes alone accounted for about one-third of the increase through August — the value of tomato imports rose 26 percent during the first 8 months. Bell peppers (up $75 million), onions (up $29 million), squash (up $28 million), and cucumbers (up $23 million) accounted for the lions share of the remaining increase.

Contract production for the four major vegetables for processing (tomatoes, sweet corn, snap beans, and green peas) is expected to decline 10 percent from a year ago to 13.6 million short tons.

Production was lower than a year ago for each crop, with green pea output down the most (29 percent). Seeking to reduce inventories and prop up weak wholesale prices, processors planned to reduce output this year by cutting area for harvest 9 percent.

Production was curtailed further as yield for each crop was reduced by a cool, wet spring and a hot, dry summer. Domestic output of sweet corn for processing was forecast to decline 4 percent from a year earlier to 3.04 million short tons. Harvested area was down 3 percent and the estimated per-acre yield averaged 1 percent less than a year earlier. Yields were up in most States, with the exception of New York and Minnesota where dry weather impacted maturity and sizing.

According to the California Processing Tomato Advisory Board, 8.64 million short tons of tomatoes were processed this season — down 16 percent from a year earlier. The harvest of California processing tomatoes in October generally brings a price premium to the grower due to the heightened risk of crop failure. Such late-season volume can account for as little as 3 percent of the total crop (as in 1998 and 2000) or in the case of the record-large 1999 crop, 14 percent of output. This year, California tomato processors packed 8 percent of the crop after September 30. Other States are expected to process about 0.5 million tons — about the same size as Canada's crop. With supplies trimmed, wholesale tomato product prices are expected to rise this fall and continue above year-earlier levels into 2002.

U.S. sweet potato growers expect to harvest 93,100 acres this fall, down 2 percent from a year ago. North Carolina and Louisiana, the top sweet potato-producing States, are each expected to harvest 1,000 acres less than last year. Acreage is also down slightly or the same as a year ago in most other States, with the notable exception of Mississippi, where harvested area is expected to be 14,800 acres — 20 percent higher than in 2000.

Reduced output is expected for most dry bean classes, including pinto, navy, black, Great Northern, red kidney, cranberry, and lima beans (official estimates were made available on Dec. 11).

These smaller crops should result in substantial reductions in elevator and warehouse stocks over the course of the 2001/02 marketing year. As a result, aggregate dry bean prices are expected to rise through mid-2002. With much improved grower prices during the 2001/02 marketing year, area planted to dry beans is expected to increase 25 to 30 percent in the spring of 2002.

Use of all mushrooms totaled 1.15 billion pounds in 2000/01 (fresh-weight basis) — up from 930 million pounds in 1990 and 625 million in 1980. Nearly all the gain in total mushroom demand since 1990 has been the result of rising fresh use.

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