Grower prices for many fresh vegetables continued a gradual recovery from the lows of late 2011/early 2012, although the projected overall fourth quarter price index for fresh vegetables is down six points from the third quarter 2012 index, according to the latest USDA Vegetables & Melons Outlook.

October to December 2012 average prices for celery, sweet corn, cucumbers, onions, snap beans, and field tomatoes all are above corresponding prices from the previous year.

But even with this gradual improvement, the current fourth quarter price still remains below the three-year average (2009-11) for both onions and field tomatoes.

Grower prices for broccoli, carrots, cauliflower and lettuce remain below the previous year as well as below the three-year average.

Sweet corn, cucumber and snap bean markets have shown the strongest recovery with fourth quarter 2012 prices above both the previous year and the three-year average.

Grower prices for snap beans have remained firm through 2012. The overall price index for all vegetables remains 9 percent below the three-year average.

Shipments of most vegetable items increased between September and October 2012.

Volume of snap beans and squash, in particular, has been strong compared to this past September.

Asparagus shipments from Peru dropped off earlier in 2012 than the previous two years, reducing overall shipment volume in October 2012. Increased demand from European and processing markets was reported to cut into the Peruvian supply.

Despite improvement in fourth quarter average prices for broccoli and cauliflower, when compared with the third quarter of 2012, the upswing has not been as strong as the previous year.

The reported average fourth quarter 2012 fresh broccoli price is up more than five cents per pound compared with the third quarter 2012, and cauliflower price is up more than 10 cents per pound in the same period.

Prices for the two fresh vegetables have weakened late in the fourth quarter. Good weather in California and typical drop-off in demand between Thanksgiving and late December have pushed more recent prices down.

The Producer Price Index (PPI) for fresh-market vegetables (excluding potatoes) continued to experience a sharp decline, with prices falling by 12.5 percent between September and October of this past year, and 16.5 percent from October of 2011.