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Vegetables and specialties outlook.

In 1991, U.S. vegetable production, including potatoes, sweetpotatoes, and dry beans, rose 2 percent from the previous year. Record-large output of potatoes, dry beans, and processing tomatoes more than offset lower fresh vegetable and sweetpotato output. Area harvested for the 10 selected fresh market vegetables and melons (tomatoes, lettuce, onions, sweet corn, celery, carrots, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, and honeydew melons) declined 5 percent to 1.1 million acres. About 52 percent of 1991 fresh market output came from California, followed by Florida (11 percent), Arizona (7 percent), Oregon (4 percent), and Washington (4 percent).

Unusual weather patterns prevailed during the spring of 1991, causing sporadic fresh vegetable supplies and strong prices throughout the marketing chain. Less acreage and reduced yields caused by heavy rains and abnormally high temperatures in Florida and other Southeastern States cut available supplies for many vegetables. Higher retail prices for fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers were responsible for strong increases in consumer prices through early summer. In addition, heavy March rains in California (that forced replanting of some fields) and slow crop development (due to abnormally cool spring temperatures) were responsible for strong spring lettuce prices.

Processing-vegetable production (excluding potatoes) increased 5 percent in 1991 as tomato output reached its third consecutive record high. Tomatoes accounted for 67 percent of processing-vegetable production. With 91 percent of processing-tomato production, California growers accounted for 62 percent of estimated U.S. processing-vegetable output. Wisconsin (9 percent of U.S. production), Minnesota (6 percent), Washington (4 percent), and Oregon (4 percent) are also important processing vegetable States.

Compared with the 1984-88 average, processing-tomato acreage was 33 percent higher in 1991, 32 percent higher in 1990, and 20 percent higher in 1989. The record 1991 crop of 10.9 million tons resulted in burdensome stocks and low tomato-product prices that forced processors to slash contract offerings this season. As a result, total 1992 processing-tomato production is expected to be almost 9 million tons, 18 percent less than the 1991 crop and less than expected total use (domestic plus exports). Therefore, some reduction in inventories and strengthening of prices are expected.

U.S. Per Capita Utilization

Domestic per capita use (farm-weight basis) of 27 selected vegetables and melons fell about 1 percent to 391 pounds in 1991. A 5-percent reduction in the use of fresh vegetables and melons (due largely to weather-reduced production), especially head lettuce, watermelon, and sweet corn, more than offset increased use of potatoes, vegetables for freezing, and dry edible beans. For 1992, per capita use of all vegetables is forecast to remain near that of 1991, as increased use of fresh vegetables is offset by lower potato and processing-vegetable use.

Per capita use of the seven major vegetables for canning (excluding potatoes) increased 1 percent to 94 pounds (farm weight) in 1991. Much of this gain was due to higher production of tomatoes, snap beans, and sweet corn. Use of green peas, carrots, and pickling cucumbers fell, while asparagus usage remained constant.

Prices and Receipts

Grower prices for fresh-market vegetables in 1991 fell 3 percent from a year earlier as strong spring and early summer prices were outweighed by weaker winter and fall returns. Aggregate fresh vegetable prices were record high in May and June, due mostly to poor early-spring weather in California. However, summer vegetable prices hit rock bottom when California's vegetable output recovered with strong volume. When weighted by sales volume, 1991 season-average prices were generally above a year earlier for most major fresh vegetables. For 1991/92, potato prices likely averaged below the preliminary estimate of $5.05 per cwt. With a smaller crop expected this fall, potato prices are expected to post modest gains in the year ahead.

After rising just 1 percent in 1990, U.S. vegetable grower's cash receipts fell an estimated 1 to 3 percent in 1991 to around $11 billion. Most of the reduction was due to lower returns for potatoes and dry beans. Receipts for the nine principal processing vegetables remained unchanged at $1.5 billion as a 4 percent rise in production was offset by lower average prices. After falling 12 percent in 1990, cash receipts rose 5 percent for the 10 principal fresh vegetables as higher average-value-per-unit outweighed 4-percent-less production. In 1992, lower fresh market prices, reduced processing output, and declining potato and pulse receipts will likely push vegetable sector returns down again.


The market niche for specialty vegetables continues to expand, and supply is being met by increased domestic production and larger imports. Total specialty supplies were up about 8 percent in 1991 from the previous year, with shipments from domestic sources up 4 percent and imports up 16 percent. Shipments of imported tropical vegetables increased 138 percent in 1991--more than any other specialty vegetable category.

The value of specialty and minor vegetable production in California, almost $1 billion in 1990, is larger than in any other State. However, statistics are unavailable for 1991 because of budgetary reductions within the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Herbs continue to be one of the fastest growing segments of the specialty niche. In 1991, import shipments of miscellaneous herbs (basil, chives, cilantro, dill, and mint) more than doubled from the previous year, with domestic shipments increasing 16 percent.

Despite the U.S. economic recession, per capita use of the seven major vegetables for freezing (excluding potatoes) increased 7 percent to 19 pounds (farm weight) in 1991. Much of this gain was due to higher production of sweet corn and green peas for freezing. Use of sweet corn for freezing increased 9 percent to a record-high 9.4 pounds per person. Also, record-high production and beginning stocks led to a 16-percent decline in the average retail price of frozen cut corn, which prompted increased demand.

Preliminary data indicate Americans used about 1 percent more potatoes in 1991 than in 1990. Record production and processing use, particularly for french fries, led to a record-high use of 131 pounds per person (farm weight). Per capita use of potatoes for freezing totaled over 52 pounds last year, 40 percent of all potato use. Potatoes for freezing accounted for 23 percent of total use in 1970 and 7 percent in 1960. For the second consecutive year, more potatoes were used for freezing than in the fresh market. However, on a retail-weight basis (product-weight), fresh use still predominates because of peeling, trimming, and cutting in french fry production.


In terms of value, the United States was a net exporter of vegetables and melons in 1991. In 1990, largely because of record-high fresh-tomato import prices, total import value slightly exceeded export value. U.S. vegetable and melon exports (including potatoes and pulses) increased 8 percent during 1991 to $2.1 billion. Canada accounted for about 42 percent of U.S. vegetable exports, followed by Japan (16 percent), Mexico (5 percent), the United Kingdom (4 percent), and Hong Kong (2 percent).

U.S. fresh vegetable and melon exports increased 15 percent during 1991 to $801 million. Together, tomatoes and lettuce accounted for 30 percent of total fresh export value. Because of freeze-reduced first-quarter 1990 exports, the increase in 1991 appeared much stronger than would normally be expected. Tomatoes were particularly hard hit by the December 1989 Florida freeze and trade data for early-1990 reflect this. First-quarter 1991 tomato export volume increased 53 percent. At the same time, firstquarter tomato imports, which increased in early 1990 to compensate for the loss of domestic supplies, declined 20 percent in 1991.

Canned vegetable exports rose 21 percent to $280 million in 1991. Exports of canned tomato products (primarily sauces and paste) totaled $106 million, up 41 percent from 1990. Sweet corn accounted for 37 percent ($102 million) of canned exports, with Japan as the largest market.

Partly because of reduced worldwide economic activity, frozen vegetable exports rose just 2 percent in 1991 to $117 million. Exports of potatoes and related products increased 11 percent to $320 million as potato chip sales jumped 50 percent. Canada has expanded its frozen potato-processing capacity, which resulted in U.S. frozen-potato exports falling sharply in 1991 for the first time in many years.

During the first quarter of 1992, the volume of U.S. frozen-potato exports resumed the long-run growth trend interrupted last year. Frozen exports realized a gain of 14 percent from a year earlier during the first quarter of 1992. Exports of frozen potato products were valued at $139 million in 1991, with french fries totaling $126 million. Japan accounted for 67 percent of U.S. exports of frozen french fries last year, totaling $84 million.

U.S. vegetable and melon imports (including potatoes and pulses) declined 4 percent during 1991 to $1.9 billion. Mexico accounted for about 51 percent of U.S. vegetable and melon imports, followed by Canada (10 percent), China (PRC) (5 percent), Thailand (3 percent), and Hong Kong (3 percent).

During 1991, imports of fresh vegetables and melons into the United States totaled $1.0 billion, 5 percent lower than in 1990. The decline was due largely to lower import prices (especially for tomatoes), which returned to normal after rising considerably in 1990 due to Florida's winter freeze. Among fresh vegetable imports, tomatoes still had the highest value in 1991, $260 million, down from $378 million in 1990.
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Publication:Frozen Food Digest
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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