Area for harvest of the major fresh-market fall vegetables — excluding melons, onions and potatoes — was forecast to decline 1 percent to 150,160 acres, according to USDA’s latest Vegetables and Melons Outlook report.

This compares with a 5-percent increase last fall and follows gains in the winter, spring and summer crops this year. Growers of 5 of the 11 surveyed crops are expected to decrease acreage this fall.

About two-thirds of fall acreage reduction is expected to come from cabbage and largely reflected drought in Georgia at the time of planting. Georgia vegetable growers also cut fall snap bean area by one-third.

Total acreage is expected to rise about 2 percent in California and remain steady in Florida —the top-producing states. California growers are expected to harvest about two-thirds of the fall fresh-market vegetable area.

Assuming average weather and yields, fall production is expected to be about the same as a year earlier when fresh shipments increased 6 percent from the fall of 2008, due mostly to strong early season volume.

Given average weather this fall, shipping point prices for fresh-market vegetables are projected to average below those of a year earlier. Last fall was cold and wet in California, which caused uneven harvests and sporadic shipment volume, especially during November and December.

Although total shipments increased from a year earlier, uncertainty over timing and product availability caused open market shipping point prices to soar to nominal dollar record highs in November and December.

So far, most of the heavy tropical weather has missed Florida and Georgia, but California has been cooler and wetter than normal. Assuming average weather during the next two months, fresh-market vegetable and melon prices will likely average 10 to 15 percent below those of a year earlier. Lower prices are expected for head lettuce, celery, broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes, while higher prices are expected for bulb onions, cucumbers and snap beans.

Despite low prices a year ago and average prices this summer, melon area isexpected to rise 1 percent this fall to 17,600 acres. All of the increase will come fromcantaloupes, with honeydew area remaining steady.

Melon season drawing to close

With the summer melon seasondrawing to a close in California’s Central Valley, the bulk of the fall melon cropwill be harvested from the desert regions of California and Arizona. Weather in thesouthern desert areas of California and Arizona has been relatively favorable andmelon yield and quality is expected to be at least average this fall.

Arizona is the topmelon producer during the fall, harvesting nearly two-thirds of the melon area.Despite shipment volume averaging above that of a year earlier, summer wholesaleprices for melons averaged 4 percent above a year ago.

Summer cantaloupe supplieswere slow to build (July shipments were down 16 percent from a year earlier)because of cooler than normal temperatures across most of the San Joaquin Valley, broken by a warm spell in September.

Crop growth in June and July wasparticularly slow as unusually cool weather led to a 16 percent decline in shipmentsduring July.

By August and September, cantaloupe volume was up about 20 percentfrom a year earlier, with prices averaging 16 percent lower. In mid-Octobershipping-point prices for cantaloupe (down 40 percent) and honeydew (down 20percent) were each running well below the highs of a year earlier.

The volume of fresh-vegetable exports (excluding potatoes and melons) increased 3 percent from a year earlier during the first eight months of (January-August) of 2010. Given higher prices, the value of those exports rose 11 percent to $1.3 billion, with the value of exports to each of the top five markets increasing:

• Canada was up 8 percent from a year earlier led by head lettuce and bulb onions;

• Mexico was up 34 percent led by tomatoes and bulb onions;

• Japan, up 38 percent led by broccoli and asparagus;

• Taiwan, up 21 percent led by broccoli and head lettuce; and

• United Kingdom, up 20 percent led by sweet potatoes and sweet corn.

Together, Canada and Japan accounted for 84 percent of U.S. fresh-market vegetable export volume during the first eight months of 2010 — an increase in concentration among the top two markets from 77 percent a decade earlier.

The Mexican retaliatory tariff (in the cross-border trucking dispute) affecting crops such as onions (10 percent tariff applied to fresh onions, 20 percent on peeled onions) has reportedly held volume below what it might have been.

So far in 2010, with the notable exception of tomatoes and leaf lettuce (which were beset by weather-related production issues), export volume is higher for most commodities, including bulb onions, head lettuce, broccoli, and celery.