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Florida Freeze Losses Spike Georgia Produce Prices

Not only did an arctic blast freeze south Georgia and Florida vegetable crops, but grocery shoppers may get a chill when they see produce prices climb.

"We're likely to see a price spike at the grocery store from now until the next crop comes in sometime in late March or mid-April," said Bill Mizelle, an economist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

South Florida vegetable-growing area temperatures plunged to 20 degrees the weekend of Jan. 18. Mizelle said his reports estimate total losses in some areas.

South Florida buying-point prices have nearly doubled on beans and tomatoes. Squash and pepper prices rose by 25 percent to 50 percent.

"Retail prices probably won't reflect that entire price jump since other markets provide some of those same vegetables," he said. But prices will go up. They may even double current prices.

Some Florida farmers with damaged crops may replant their fields, hoping to recover some of their losses.

"Anything they choose to replant may overlap with Georgia crops at the market later this year," Mizelle said.

A produce glut at the market causes prices to the farmer to drop. As wholesalers pay less for produce, retail prices drop.

"Grocery prices from April into June will probably be lower than normal," Mizelle said.

Georgia temperatures dipped into the 20s, too. Fortunately, crops here weren't hurt as much as in Florida.

Extension horticulturist Terry Kelley said most of Georgia's winter crops came through the freeze with very little damage.

The freeze may have slightly damaged the quills (the spiky leaves) of Georgia's sweet onion crop. But Kelley said he didn't expect the damage to be serious.

"We got a little damage in our cabbage and collards," he said. "But they should recover before they're marketed. Mustard and turnip greens may have to be cut, refertilized and allowed to regrow."

If Florida farmers replant, the crop Georgia farmers nurture until harvest could be worth less. Kelley said anything Florida farmers don't replant would certainly be better for Georgia farmers' prices.

"With the drop in supply, prices for farmers and at the retail level will rise at first," he said. "But if there is a lot of replanting in Florida, both states' growers may suffer later."

"If Florida farmers with damaged crops replant," Mizelle said, "consumers will pay for the freeze now, but farmers in Georgia and Florida will pay for it later."

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