(Aug. 2) This year could be a record year for consumption of romaine lettuce and tomatoes, according to a July 23 U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service report.

The Vegetables and Melons Yearbook report said that 2004 per capita fresh and processed vegetable consumption should increase 1% to 466 pounds.

The report said increasing use is expected for fresh market vegetables, melons and processing vegetables. Declining use was predicted for potatoes and sweet potatoes.

The USDA report showed strong romaine shipments that will translate into record high per capita consumption of 10 pounds in 2004. Tomatoes also should near the 2002 record high per capita consumption of 19.2 pounds, and increased acreage could mean onions may also approach 2002 record consumption levels.

The report said that per capita use of fresh market vegetables (excluding melons, potatoes, sweet potatoes and mushrooms) declined 1% to 141.3 pounds in 2003.

The USDA said that imports of tomatoes accounted for a record 39% of consumption in 2003, but the USDA predicted the import share will fall back to 35% in 2004 in response to increased domestic production.

The trade deficit for fresh and processed vegetables continues to widen, the USDA said.

The last time the value of U.S. exports exceeded imports was 1995, the USDA said.