March 30, 2012

Warm weather shaking up produce market

Much has already been said about the effects of the warm weather on strawberry crops in south Florida. The weather is now being repeated in the north of the state also. However, it has not produced similarly low prices, or abundant fruit as drought and rising fuel costs and upped the cost of irrigation.

An unseasonably warm winter that produced an early and bountiful strawberry crop in South Florida is repeating in North Florida, but it has not produced similarly lower prices as drought and higher diesel prices have raised irrigation costs.

Strawberries from Alachua- and Melrose-area growers are just starting to come in, said Brooke Ward, produce manager at Ward's Supermarket. She said crop quality is strong this year, but prices are up from a year ago with pints at $1.69 compared with $1.29 a year before and flats at $17 compared with $13.

As a result of the drought Rogers farm in Alachua have had to spend a whopping $5,000per week on diesel to run irrigation equipment, said Earline Rogers.

She said that, despite the higher running costs, the farm is keeping to a price of $12 per flat and $1.25 per pound for self picked fruit. She says she has to maintain low prices,. even in the face of rising costs as she faces too much competition from the south and from Mexico.

"The heat made it peak early, and everything came on at one time, and that's what's happening to us," she said. "We're not supposed to be having 85- to 90-degree weather right now."

South Florida has not only enjoyed an abundant crop from the weather they have been having - they have also increased acreage this year. Added to this is the influx of fruits from Mexico. This has led to a reduction in prices of strawberries at the consumer end of the market, where they are selling in the region of $2.15 per pound, down 28 cents from last year.

Published 03/30/12

By Anthony Clark, Business editor at The Gainesville Sun

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