(Aug. 12) WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the first quarter of 2003, refrigerated truckload volumes from major growing areas decreased, while rates continued to rise, compared with numbers from the same period of 2002.

That’s according to a new quarterly publication launched by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that details the refrigerated truck transportation of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The first issue of Refrigerated Transport Quarterly was published on Aug. 1, and future issues are expected to be released within a week after the end of each fiscal quarter.

Jim Del Ciello, agricultural marketing specialist at the USDA, said the data was gathered from Market News Service reporters in the various growing regions.

The report is broken down into seven commodity regions — Arizona, central California, Southern California, the Pacific Northwest, Florida, Texas and Mexico.

According to the report, 5.08 million tons of fresh fruit and vegetables were shipped during the first quarter of 2003, compared with 5.12 million in the first quarter of 2002.

Head lettuce was the top refrigerated commodity shipped by truck in Arizona for the first quarter, with a 76% share of the refrigerated truckload market. In central California the top commodity was carrots, with a 47% share.

In Southern California, celery was the leader, with 37% of the market, while in Mexico it was tomatoes, with 37%.

Not surprisingly, potatoes dominated the Pacific Northwest with a 37% share, while cabbage had a 53% share of the refrigerated market in Texas. In Florida, tomatoes were the top commodity, with 44% of the market.

Fresh celery truckloads posted the biggest gains in both the Arizona and central California regions, while refrigerated cabbage truckloads declined in both Florida and Texas.

Southern California strawberries showed a significant increase in refrigerated shipments, with 4,964 truckloads the first quarter of 2003. That’s up from 2,842 for the same quarter in 2002.