(Jan. 7) WASHINGTON, D.C. — The trend of rising rates and declining volumes in refrigerated truck transportation continued in the third quarter of 2003, according to the latest report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The third edition of the department’s Refrigerated Transport Quarterly reported that 3.6 million tons of fresh fruit and vegetables were shipped from seven major growing regions in the third quarter of 2003. That’s down about 5% from 3.8 million tons shipped in the same quarter of 2002.

In spite of the overall decline in shipping volumes, certain commodities did manage to post some strong growth in the third quarter. Onions from southern California, for example, more than doubled in volume, moving 1,184 truckloads in third quarter 2003 vs. just 549 in third quarter 2002.

Mexican grapes shipped 1,632 truckloads in the third quarter of 2003, nearly triple the 546 shipments made in the third quarter of 2002.

In other regions, Arizona watermelons accounted for 62% of refrigerated truckloads out of that state in the third quarter. In spite of this, watermelon shipments out of Arizona were down significantly compared to 2002. Watermelon truckloads were 11,972 in the third quarter of 2002, and dropped 47% to 6,280 in the third quarter of 2003.

In central California, lettuce is still the top commodity, accounting for 35% of refrigerated truckloads out of the region in the third quarter.

Grape shipments, however, decreased from 2002. In the third quarter of 2003, there were 16,495 refrigerated truckloads of grapes out of central California, which is down 17% from 19,942 the previous year.

Despite of the increase in onion shipments, avocados remain the top commodity out of southern California, representing 23% of the refrigerated truckloads in the third quarter.

While grapes made the largest shipping gains for the third quarter in Mexico, limes still take the largest share of truckloads at 36% for the third quarter.

In the Pacific Northwest, potatoes were the biggest shipper for the third quarter, making up 58% of refrigerated truckloads.

Apple shipments dropped drastically in the third quarter 2003 compared to shipments in 2002. There were 10,247 truckloads reported in the third quarter in 2002, that fell 72% to 2,860 truckloads in the third quarter of 2003.

The report said that Florida’s shipments of fresh fruits and vegetables are historically at their lowest during the third quarter and thus did not offer analysis for this region. Texas data was also not reported for the same reason.