(Jan. 6) Despite a 1% decline in potato production, U.S. potato prices for all uses have averaged 19% less than those a year ago and 14% less than two years ago, according to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service report.

The mid-December report said that lower early-season grower prices, combined with lower retail prices for potatoes and frozen french fries, may reflect weaker demand for potatoes and potato products.

The potato price for 2003-04 is expected to average $5.50 to $6.50 per cwt., down from $6.69 per cwt. in 2002-03.

In other vegetable news, the USDA reported that domestic production of vegetables and melons is forecast to increase an average of 2% annually during the next decade.

Meanwhile, the farm value of production is expected to increase even more — 3.3% each year.

During the first 10 months of 2003, the USDA reported the volume of fresh market vegetable imports (excluding potatoes, mushrooms, melons and pulses) was up 7% compared with volume from the previous year.

Leading gainers among vegetables included asparagus, up 20%; chili peppers and tomatoes, both up 14%; and squash and onions, both up 13%.

The USDA predicts increasing year-round demand for vegetables will result in increased imports in 2004.