In California: Process tomato crop likely to dip 16 percent

Contract production of tomatoes for processing had been projected to decline 3 percent in California to 10.5 million short tons. However, data from the California Processing Tomato Advisory Board (CPTAB) indicates lower yields will cause the crop to top out at about 9.3 million tons — a decline of 16 percent from a year earlier.

The USDA says yields in the Midwest are also expected to average below a year earlier due to increased disease pressure. After adding production outside of California, U.S. processing tomato production will likely total about 9.8 million tons in 2003 — 16 percent below a year earlier but 6 percent higher than the short 2001 crop.

This fall (largely October-December), fresh-market vegetable and melon area for harvest is forecast to rise 1 percent from a year ago. Fall area is forecast the same or higher for eight of the 13 crops surveyed. The largest gains were for cantaloupe (up 18 percent) and sweet corn (up 10 percent) with reduced area for bell peppers (down 8 percent) and cucumbers (down 5 percent) partially offsetting. Field-grown tomato prices have returned to more seasonal levels after experiencing an unusually strong summer market.

Bouts with bloom-wilting heat in California and one of the wettest growing seasons in years on the East Coast reduced summer tomato supplies 4 percent and sent prices much higher.

Retail prices for tomatoes were elevated this summer — averaging $1.47, up 23 percent from the mean of the previous three years.

Sweet potatoes

With sweet potato harvested area expected to be higher than a year ago, production is expected to rise, but the amount is still in question. Heavy rains in July led to some crop loss and delayed plantings in North Carolina, and Hurricane Isabel may have had some negative effects on the crop (although not expected to be drastic). Although quality in North Carolina is expected to be good, yields are reported down from a year ago and harvest is late.

Harvest has also been a little later than usual in Louisiana and Mississippi, but growing conditions have been very good and both states are expecting good yields and high quality crops. If strong early-season demand continues through the holidays, grower prices will likely equal or exceed the 2002 season average price of $16.30 per hundredweight.

After declining for four consecutive calendar years (1999-2002), the net balance in potato trade value appears headed for a further decline in 2003, and could create the first ever annual trade deficit in potatoes.

Trade figures through August showed a deficit of $17 million, compared with a $126 million surplus during January through August of last year.

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