Cold snap in California, Arizona likely to drive up Canadian produce prices
Jennifer Whitley, right, walks over ice formed around trees in an orange grove in Redlands, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013. (AP / Jae C. Hong)
Published Tuesday, January 22, 2013 10:53AM EST
A cold snap in California and Arizona is expected to result in higher prices at Canadian supermarkets, and in many cases poorer quality produce.
Unseasonably cold temperatures in the two states have taken a toll on the quality and quantity of produce being harvested by farmers, with the mercury falling four to five degrees below normal temperatures for this time of year.
A freeze warning was put in place last week for an area stretching from California's verdant Imperial Valley all the way to Phoenix, Ariz.
Lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower crops have been experiencing the most severe losses, but citrus fruits could also see price increases as freezing temperatures put harvests in jeopardy. According to some estimates, one-quarter of the region's orange varieties have already been affected.
The end result is that farmers raise their prices, and the increases are then passed along to consumers via retailers, said Jim Vercammen, a professor of food and resource economics.
"With severe enough frost, price increases of 20-30 per cent would not be uncommon and you could also have poor quality," Vercammen told CTV News.
B.C. produce wholesaler Matthew Bates agreed. He said the cold weather damages or destroys some crops, and makes others more difficult to harvest.
That means less produce is available to the market, and the quality is generally poorer.
"The produce is showing some quality issues obviously, due to the colder temperatures and the freezes that happen in some areas. Also you're going to see prices go up as some crops are destroyed and others make it through the freeze," Bates said.
He added: "The more product that freezes, and as the availability decreases, then the prices rise."
In January 2007, California experienced a severe cold spell with temperatures in some regions dropping below freezing for four consecutive nights. That resulted in roughly US$77 million in losses to the Imperial Valley alone, according to reports. Across California, losses reached $1.32 billion.
The Canadian Produce Marketing Association said it expects a much less severe impact this time around, and said price increases are likely to be short lived.
With a report from CTV Ottawa’s Michael O’Byrne