USDA outlook covers October-December quarter: Storage onion crop down, prices up

Production of storage onions is expected to decline 2 percent in 2002 to about 46 million cwt. The storage crop, which provides the bulk of the nation's onions until next spring, accounts for about two-thirds of all onions grown.

The shipping-point price for fresh market onions during the third quarter (July-September) averaged $14.33 per cwt — up 14 percent from a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The outlook for the October-December quarter suggests onion prices could average well above the extreme lows ($8.87 per cwt) of a year earlier.

Similar harvest area

This fall (largely October-December), fresh-market vegetable and melon area for harvest is forecast to remain about even with a year ago. Fall area is forecast the same or higher for 9 of the 14 crops surveyed. The largest gains were for snap beans and cucumbers (each up 12 percent), with reduced area for carrots (down 11 percent) and broccoli (down 7 percent) offsetting. To this point, weather has largely been favorable in California and Florida, which may lead to strong yields.

Contract production for processing exceeded that of a year ago for tomatoes and snap beans but declined for sweet corn (down 3 percent) and green peas. Most of the increase in processed vegetables likely occurred on the canning side, with snap beans the only major item to expand frozen pack.

Wholesale prices for canned vegetables averaged nearly 5 percent above a year earlier through the first 9 months of 2002. This is the first significant price increase experienced by the industry since 1996. Prices are expected to ease in 2003.

In addition to an expected 2 percent reduction in sweet potato harvested acreage, National yields are also likely to decline this fall. Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana were hit with heavy rains by tropical storm Isadore and Hurricane Lili in late September and early October with as yet undetermined impact.

Potato use

Per capita use of potatoes (fresh-weight basis) for calendar year 2002 is now forecast at 136 pounds, down 1 percent from 2001. The decline can be attributed largely to the 15 percent decrease in domestic production in the fall of 2001. A significant increase in imports of both fresh and processed potatoes helped offset the decline in domestic supplies, and limit the reduction in per capita use.

Fresh use may decline 2 percent in 2002, while processed use declines about 1 percent. With larger output in 2002 and 2003, domestic per capita potato utilization is expected to rise in 2003.

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