In 2002, per capita vegetable and melon consumption will rise 1 percent to 451 pounds, an August USDA report projects.

Increased use of fresh, canning, and freezing vegetables is expected to outweigh reduced use of potatoes and sweet potatoes. Canned and frozen vegetables are expected to rise 2 to 3 percent as the economy improves, output rises, and prices soften.

Potato use in 2002 is expected to decline due to higher retail prices most of the year caused by smaller storage supplies from the short 2001 crop.

In 2001, per capita vegetable and melon use declined 1 percent to 449 pounds.

Fresh-market use (excluding potatoes) was unchanged at 173 pounds while freezing (down 1 percent) and canning (down 3 percent) use were lower.

Per capita use of potatoes, the largest vegetable category, likely increased 1 percent to 140 pounds, reflecting lower prices stemming from the record-large 2000 fall potato crop.

Highlights in consumption trends from 2001 include:

  • Record-high per capita use of fresh-market tomatoes, which reached 17.9 pounds. However, processing tomato use reached its lowest point since 1988 as the recession slowed demand for food away from home.

  • The recession also impacted fresh-market onion use, which declined 1 percent to 18.1 pounds per person despite adequate supplies and low prices.

  • Fresh-market sweet corn use posted a record-high 9.4 pounds per person, but the canning market continued its long-term decline.

  • Snap bean use continued to move slowly upward as small gains in fresh and freezing use outweighed reduced canning use.

  • Despite a small gain in the fresh market, carrot use declined for the fourth consecutive year after posting a record-high in 1997.

  • Pickling cucumber use may have hit its lowest point since 1952, but fresh use remained stable.

  • Melon use recovered from a brief slide in 2000 led by increased watermelon and cantaloupe use.

  • Despite the smallest fresh-market use since 1990, per capita potato use increased 1 percent as processing use rose 2 percent.

The Census Bureau released the final revised U.S. figures linking the 1990 and 2000 population censuses. The impact of incorporating the final Census 2000 population estimates for 1991-2000 (and beyond) has been to reduce total per capita vegetable use.

For example, the estimate of total vegetable per capita use declined by 12 pounds in 1999 as total disappearance was divided into a larger population base. The July 1, 1999, population estimate increased from 272.9 million to a revised 278.9 million.

Although per capita use estimates have been trimmed, all familiar long-term consumption trends remain intact.

Output Declines in 2001

Total U.S. vegetable and melon output fell 7 percent in 2001 due to reduced acreage, cool, wet spring weather in California, and pockets of drought in the upper Midwest and the East.

Increased production for dry edible peas (up 8 percent), melons (up 7 percent), sweet potatoes (up 6 percent), and vegetables for freezing (up 4 percent) was outweighed by smaller crops for other aggregate categories — notably, fresh and canning vegetables.

Fresh vegetable production, excluding melons, dropped 1 percent led by double-digit percentage cuts for spinach, bell peppers, garlic, and squash. Canning vegetable production fell 14 percent led by a 15-percent cut in tomatoes for processing.

Reduced acreage (down 8 percent) and yields pulled U.S. potato output down 13 percent in 2001, while reduced plantings and drought in Michigan and New York helped drive dry bean production down 26 percent.

Fresh Market Prices Up

During the first six months of 2002, shipping-point prices averaged 22 percent above a year earlier as unusually cool winter weather in California and Arizona interfered with the production and marketing of cool-season vegetables like lettuce and broccoli. After reaching record highs in March led by iceberg lettuce prices of more than $50 per 24-head carton, shipping-point prices declined in April, May, and June as ideal growing weather brought larger supplies into the market.

In 2001, shipping-point and retail prices for fresh-market vegetables each increased 5 percent from a year earlier. Most of the gain came during the first half of the year as shipping-point prices averaged 20 percent above a year earlier during January-June and 9 percent lower during July-December.