Let’s hope this is a harbinger for the rest of the economy.

Higher fruit and vegetable prices were reported in April, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

While fruit prices were still lower than last year at the same time, vegetable prices were up — way up, in many cases.

The USDA’s index, a composite statistic that measures the prices received by growers, rose 4.2% from March to April for fruits and nuts, though it was 8.9% lower than in April 2008.

Accounting for the month-to-month jump were higher prices for oranges, grapefruit and other fruits.

The average box of oranges sold for $6.48 in April. That’s up from $5.06 in March and $6.40 in April 2008.

That dovetails nicely with what orange shippers told me in early April. Outstanding quality, they said, would push up demand for late-season navels, and it looks like they were right.

Grapefruit prices, at $3.56 per box, were up from $3.33 in March and $2.89 in April 2008.

Those more than offset price declines in strawberries and apples, according to the report.

From March to April of this year, strawberry prices fell from $93 per cwt. to $79. The April price was, however, higher than last April’s price of $66.

Apple prices fell from 22 to 21 cents per pound month-to-month. Both March and April fell below last April’s price of 34 cents per pound.

It will be interesting to see how that number changes in coming months. It could stay low: Apple marketers are working overtime trying to figure out how to sell an enormous crop of small apples.

Or it could go back up, driven by an ever-dwindling supply of larger apples.

Vegetables

Nonpotato vegetable prices, meanwhile, rocketed above both March 2009 and April 2008 levels.

The April 2009 index shot up 32% from the month before and 24% from the year before, according to the USDA. Driving the increase were big boosts for lettuce, onions and other vegetables.

Lettuce prices shot up from $19.60 per cwt. in March to $32.20 in April. That’s more than $10 higher than last April’s $21.60 average price.

Onion prices also enjoyed a big jump. The April 2008 price of $16.80 per cwt. was up from $6.49 in March and $10.60 in April 2008.

Prices of snap beans, broccoli and other vegetables fell in April. Beans took a big dive, from $69 per cwt. in March to $37 in April. Broccoli fell from $47 per cwt. in March to $43 in April.

Potatoes also got a price bump in April, though not as dramatic as some other vegetables. The average April price of $10.42 per cwt. was up $1.15 from March and $1.97 from April 2008.

Meanwhile, lower fuel prices continue to mean lower overall input costs for growers of fruits and vegetables and other agricultural producers, according to the USDA.

The government’s production index, a composite statistic that measures total input costs, fell 2.7% from April 2008 to April 2009.

Lower fuel costs led the way. Though the USDA’s fuel cost index climbed 5.2% from March to April, it was still a whopping 46% lower than in April 2008.

Fertilizer prices also were lower, falling 1.3% from March and 8.1% from April 2008.

Input costs showing increases in April included chemicals, which rose 2% from March and 14% from last April, and machinery, which climbed 0.5% from March and 9.4% from a year ago.