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.