WASHINGTON -- Low potato prices this season are expected to have a moderating effect on overall retail vegetable price increases well into next year, according to officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture here.
According to the USDA, the first estimate of the fall potato crop is 448 million hundredweight, up 11% compared with last year and tops 1994's record count by about 5%.
This is likely to result in a lowering of potato prices, and since potatoes are the most heavily weighted vegetable in the Consumer Price Index, the low prices should cancel out most increases on prices for other vegetables, said Gary Lucier, situation coordinator and principal contributor to the report.
Low prices and high quantity should boost per capita potato use to about 51 pounds per person next year, though it is expected to drop to about 49 pounds this season.
Reduced acreage for other fresh vegetables and melons this past fall could lead to slightly lower supplies, and somewhat higher retail prices for some commodities in the winter quarter, which officials hope will be offset by the potato crop.
Florida growers cut their fall area acreage by 10% this year, and California, which accounts for 59% of the fall vegetable and melon acreage, increased 1%, the USDA said.
But department officials also say the unpredictability of the weather is an element they are unable to factor into the equation.
"The outlook for next year is really based on what the weather is like this winter," Lucier told SN.
Another issue addressed in the report was any anticipated impact on retail prices arising from the compromise this October between Mexican tomato growers and the U.S. Department of Commerce to set a minimum floor price of $5.17 per 25-pound case of tomatoes.
The agreement was reached in lieu of a lawsuit filed by Florida growers, who had accused Mexican growers of dumping, or selling their product well below market cost. It had been alleged that Mexican growers were selling cases of tomatoes for as low as $2 a apiece at times.
Florida growers recently agreed to set their own floor price of $5 per 25-pound case.
Many observers, especially on the Mexican side, predict this move will raise tomato prices at store level, but Lucier said he believes the mandated minimum prices will not weigh down heavily on the retail end.