Impacts of Weather on the
Vegetable Processing Industry

Robert J. Allen
Agricultural Research and Services
Fruit and Vegetable Processing Crops
Batavia, IL


Weather plays an integral part of agriculture production in the U.S. The vegetable processing industry (canning and freezing) in the U.S. constitutes approximately 1.3 million acres, producing 6.1 to 6.8 million tons of raw product with a value of $750 million. This paper will focus on the use of weather information in the vegetable production portion of the processing industry. Del Monte Foods is one of the world's leading processors of fruits, vegetables and tomatoes. The company contracts approximately 100,000 acres of vegetables (asparagus to zucchini) which produces about 480,000 tons of raw product. The major bulk of production is in snap beans, sweet corn and green peas.

Weather information (historical, current and future) is more critical to the vegetable processing industry than other segments of agriculture. Commodity crops, grain corn, soybeans, etc., are for the most part planted in a relatively narrow period of time and harvested when the crops are physiologically mature. Vegetable crops on the other hand must be planted on a tight schedule to provide orderly harvest and delivery to a processing plant. Growing seasons, planting to harvest, for major vegetables are typically 60 to 90 days. The majority of vegetables must be harvested and processed within a 24 to 48 hour period to maintain peak of quality.

Weather information is, therefore, critical to all stages of planning, planting, pest control and harvest of vegetable production.


Processing facility capacity - tons per day - is a function of the physical limitations of facility equipment. Using historical weather data, planting and harvest schedules are developed to determine how many acres are to be planted to provide for processing facility daily tonnage requirements. At Del Monte, a raw product forecast system is used to aid in the planning, planting and harvesting stages of crop production. The system provides a model of planting and harvest dates as well as yield forecast. Historical data - daily high-low temperature averages, rainfall, frost and freeze dates are used to provide models for each crop each year.


Once the planting season starts, daily and near term 2 to 7 day forecasts are used to provide field personnel guidelines on what adjustments are required to the planting schedule during the following week. These schedules must reflect the impact of temperature (heat units) and moisture forecasts for the coming period. Daily adjustments are made, keeping in mind that plant capacity is fixed and that over and/or under supply affect operating costs. Satellite data transmission services are currently in use to provide current weather information, forecast information and satellite/radar information. Adjustments based on actual weather events and short range forecasts are used to ensure volumes meet production plant capacities.

Pest Control

Most pest problems (insects and diseases) of vegetable crops vary in intensity, depending upon weather conditions. Local "atmospheric" characteristics (hourly and daily) can influence the degree of pest pressure on the crop. Large scale weather patterns can also contribute to a large degree to the intensity of pest problems. Chemical spraying measures can be organized within 24 to 48 hours lead time to provide control. These control measures are costly and critical to maintaining quality and yield. A single spray application ranges from $10 to $15 per acre. Sweet corn, for example, can require up to several treatments for insect control. Accurate short-term and, to some extent, 30 -ay forecasts can play a major role in the formulating decisions on number and timing of applications.


Most vegetable crops have a very narrow harvest window to maintain optimum quality. In order to maintain reasonable plant production, 5 day tonnage forecasts are prepared and updated daily. The tonnage forecast must take into account short term (1 to 5 days) weather forecasts. Longer term forecasts (6 to 10 days) are used to "look ahead" to anticipate the impact weather will have on future volumes. This information, both short-term and long-term, is used to enable production personnel to adjust crewing on a shift-to-shift and or a day-to-day basis. The accuracy of forecasts is critical to production decisions on daily crewing and to maintaining quality of processed product throughout the season.

Financial Implications

The year-to-year variation from planned production targets is primarily the result of weather events. Sales are based on annual forecasts; target volumes can be missed (above or below) primarily due to seasonal weather variability. It is estimated that annually 6% of planted acreage is not harvested, primarily due to weather related events. On a national scale the lost production is estimated to be valued at $42.5 million.

Weather cannot be avoided, but accurate short-term and long-term forecasts can be instrumental in maintaining orderly flows of raw product to processing facilities, at optimum costs and at the peak of quality.

Societal Aspects of Weather

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