Per capita vegetable use (consumption) is forecast to increase about 1 percent in 2004 to 449 pounds (fresh-weight basis). Increased use is expected for fresh market vegetables, melons, and canning vegetables, with declining use expected for potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Assuming continued favorable weather into the fall and a strengthening economy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says consumption of several fresh-market vegetables could reach record-highs in 2004.

Fresh market tomato production is expected to recover from the weather-reduced levels of 2003 and help push domestic tomato use above the 2002 record-high of 18.2 pounds per person. Similarly, increased acreage could push onion production higher in 2004, which could allow use of fresh dry-bulb onions to exceed the 1997 record high.

According to preliminary estimates for 2003, per capita use of fresh-market vegetables (excluding melons, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and mushrooms) remained virtually unchanged at 144.3 pounds.

Up 1 percent

Including melons, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and mushrooms, fresh-market vegetable consumption totaled 225.3 pounds — up 1 percent from a year earlier. Fresh spinach use increased 14 percent to 1.9 pounds — the highest per capita use since 1949. Per capita use of fresh-market sweet corn rose 7 percent to a record 9.8 pounds, with production and exports also setting records.

Disappearance (use) of vegetables for freezing (excluding potatoes) increased 4 percent to 6.4 billion pounds (23.2 billion including potatoes) in 2003. On a per capita use basis, freezing vegetables (excluding potatoes) increased 3 percent to 22.1 pounds last year. Per capita use of canning vegetables (excluding potatoes) declined fractionally to 97.0 pounds.

Total domestic disappearance of canning vegetables in 2003 rose nearly 1 percent to 28.3 billion pounds. Aside from chile peppers and cucumbers for pickles, estimated use of all major canning vegetables either increased or remained constant.

ERS projects planted acreage for the 2004 fall-season potatoes to decline between 2 and 4 percent from a year ago. Lower grower prices and higher stocks on hand in the spring typically signal a decrease in fall acreage. Other important factors this year are relatively weak demand for fresh potatoes compared with the past 2 years, potentially stabilizing but still fairly weak demand for frozen potato products, and ever-increasing competition from Canada.

Although gains have slowed over the past decade, average per capita consumption of honeydew melons has increased each decade since the 1960s.