Cold weather in the Western growing states and Mexico has delayed vegetable production and might have caused some freeze damage to produce, industry and government groups said.
Wegmans Food Markets ’ suppliers reported damaged vegetable crops and slowed plant growth, according to a blog post by Mary Ellen Burris, senior vice president of consumer affairs at Wegmans.
“So for the next few weeks, supplies are very tight and our costs are going up. In some cases, product may not be available,” Burris wrote. “Retail prices are going up but trust us, they’ll come down when conditions improve.”
To compensate for the lack of product, Wegmans will be increasing its defect tolerance for large leafy greens. The retailer will also be posting signs about the vegetable shortage in the produce department.
Wendy Fink-Weber, senior director of communications at Western Growers, said winter vegetable growers in the Coachella Valley; Yuma, Ariz.; Mexicali, Mexico; and California’s Imperial Valley experienced the cold weather.
Regarding the lettuce crop, she said, “There’s been some freeze, but the consequence of that will be the heads will be smaller. They have to pull off the outer leaves. They still have salvageable crop.”
Lettuce supply was already reduced by cold weather in December, Fink-Weber said.
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The frost has also slowed down the harvesting process, said Dave Kranz, spokesman for the California Farm Bureau Federation.
The vegetable farm workers “typically would start pretty early in the morning but they had to wait to get into the fields in the mornings for the temperatures to warm and the vegetables to thaw out a little bit before they started harvesting,” said Kranz.
“So that means they haven’t been able to harvest as much on any given day and that obviously reduces the supplies to market for a time,” he said, noting prices have gone up for winter vegetables.
Steve Lyle, director of public affairs at the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said the agency has been working with growers and country agricultural commissions to identify where the greatest areas of risk are and take crop samples from those areas. In particular, the agency will be looking at damage of citrus fruit and avocados.
The agency officials will “be inspecting the fruit carefully to make sure anything that does goes to market is still of top quality,” said Kranz.
Because it can take several days for this damage to appear, the California Citrus Mutual growers association was still waiting to find out the extent of damage, as of last week. The group expected the navel orange crop to fare well due to its sugar content and temperature tolerance to 27 degrees, said Alyssa Houtby, director of public affairs for the association.
Mandarins are at a greater risk, with a threshold of 32 degrees, Houtby said.
“We don’t expect significant impact on the market; we don’t expect consumer prices to go up or for there to be a lack of supply at the marketplace.
“Growers did average $28 million in frost protection over the past six nights, so if there is going to be a price increase it’ll probably be at the per carton basis, so again the consumer will likely not see any increase in prices at the market,” Houtby said.
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Produce growers use techniques like air blowers and helicopters to move the cold away from plants, as well as warmers and sprinklers to raise temperatures to protect crops from the cold.
California avocado growers have also said it’s too soon to tell about the damage to the fruit, according to Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing at the California Avocado Commission.
“So we’ll be monitoring in the weeks ahead and have a better feel as we move down the road a little bit,” DeLyser said.
California strawberries that were in the blossom stage will have some minimal damage, but the crop for Valentine’s Day is still in the small green berry stage, a stage more resistant to frost, said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director, California Strawberry Commission.
“It looks that it’s really not going to have that much of an impact on the supply,” said DeLyser, who noted it is currently the low production part of the strawberry season.
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