This summer — covering a period from July to September — area for harvest of 12 selected fresh-market vegetables is forecast to decline 1 percent from a year ago to 282,800 acres.

Increased area for snap beans, carrots, and sweet corn was more than offset by reductions for head lettuce, cauliflower and summer non-storage onions.

Reduced summer area follows declines in both the winter (down 5 percent) and spring vegetable seasons (down 4 percent). While summer acreage was only down slightly, the cool weather which has persisted in many areas has slowed crop maturity, but has generally been beneficial for quality and yields.

Given little change in area from last summer, no severe weather (e.g., hurricanes), average or better yields, and sluggish foodservice demand, supplies will likely be adequate for most fresh vegetables this summer.

Growers in California, accounting for 45 percent of this year’s summer-season vegetable area (down from 47 percent a year earlier), reduced acreage nearly 5 percent. New York, the second-leading summer-season producer, with 15 percent of acreage, expects to harvest slightly fewer acres than a year ago. Despite a 2-percent gain in sweet corn area (the state’s top fresh-market vegetable crop), New York’s fresh vegetable acreage declined due to a 9-percent reduction in cabbage area.

Although cabbage is grown in most states during the summer, New York accounts for the majority of the commercial crop. Persistent rains likely prevented timely planting of some New York crops (such as cabbage) and may have led to reductions in early yields. Together, these resulted in higher than normal prices for early summer cabbage.

At the beginning of August, fresh-market vegetable crops in other parts of the country were generally progressing well, with average yields (or better) expected. Michigan received much needed rain in mid-August but temperatures remained cooler than normal. However, vegetable crops such as tomatoes were reported to be in excellent condition with good size and quality noted. In Ohio, despite a cooler than normal summer, progress of crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers was running ahead of both last year and the five-year average.

In New Jersey, vegetable crops such as tomatoes, squash, sweet corn, peppers, and eggplant were generally reported to be of good quality and available in good quantity. On the Delmarva Peninsula, cooler-than-normal temperatures slowed crop maturity for fresh vegetables such as snap beans, sweet corn and tomatoes.

This summer’s area for harvest of the three leading melon crops was estimated to be 87,900 acres — slightly less than a year earlier. Area is expected to be down for watermelon and honeydews, but a bit higher for cantaloupes. Although cantaloupe area was steady in California, growers in the Southeast (Georgia and South Carolina) planted more area, accounting for all the acreage gain.

Watermelon is the top melon crop during the summer in terms of acreage and shipment volume. Watermelon area for harvest was down this summer, with growers in Georgia reducing watermelon area for the third consecutive year. Despite record-high average watermelon prices in 2008 (up 13 percent from a year earlier), some of Georgia’s area could have shifted into cantaloupe this year. This reflects much more attractive prices for cantaloupe over the past few years in the state and strong demand in general for Eastern-grown cantaloupe.

According to USDA’s Market News Service, total melon shipments ran 5 percent below a year earlier during the peak May-July period due in part to slow crop development caused by cool spring weather. As crops matured, shipment volume improved and by July was stronger than a year earlier for seedless watermelon (up 11 percent). However, shipments of cantaloupe and honeydew remained below a year earlier — consistent with the reduction in acreage and lower yields.

As reported by USDA’s Market News Service, U.S. average advertised retail prices for cantaloupes have remained around $2 each this summer. Average retail prices for seedless watermelon declined seasonally each month since peaking at the start of the domestic season at $5.49 each — falling to $4.19 in August. Until weakening in August to $2.71 each, honeydew melon retail prices had hovered around $3 since early spring.

Assuming continued sluggish economic activity and weak demand, summer-season fresh-market vegetable prices are likely to average below the relatively strong levels of the past year. During the summer quarter of 2008, prices received by growers and shippers of fresh-market vegetables and melons were the highest nominal dollar summer season prices on record. Assuming average weather, shipping-point prices for fresh-market vegetables (which rose 8 percent last summer), are currently expected to average 2 to 7 percent below a year earlier during the summer quarter.

e-mail: phollis@farmpress.com