Arching her eyebrows at prices along the produce aisle, Ilene Ellman decided to alter her shopping routine.
Instead of buying fresh corn — four ears for $4.99 — she picked up a $1.79 bag of frozen kernels. She also tore open a nearly 2-pound bag of green beans, marked at $5.65, and scooped out half.
"I love fresh vegetables, but I draw the line at five bucks," said Ellman outside a Publix grocery in Hollywood this week.
The Florida Department of Agriculture estimates that farmers lost $273 million during a string of December freezes — with the heaviest losses in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, the state's two largest produce producers. Now the cold spell is costing consumers.
"You have a freeze, you lose produce, prices are going to go up," said Charles LaPradd, Miami-Dade's agricultural manager. "That's what happened."
Market prices for sweet corn — among the hardest hit crops — have doubled since before the freeze. Green beans, also hammered, have tripled from cut-rate pre-holiday prices. Though prices vary from store to store, yellow squash, zuchinni, cucumbers, bell peppers, eggplants, and some lettuces also have jumped 25 percent or more. Farmers and grocers expect them to continue to rise, though not as steeply, over coming weeks until replanted crops or imports come in.
Brett Bergmann, co-owner of Pahokee-based Hugh H. Branch Inc., the nation's largest distributor of sweet corn, told The Palm Beach Post that the December freezes were unprecedented, claiming as much as 80 percent of the crop. That's reflected in skyrocketing wholesale prices — with a 48-ear crate that earned farmers less than $8 at Thanksgiving now going for $25 to $30.
"We've never seen anything like this," Bergmann said. "It has been a huge blow. We would have had a consistent supply and a decent market that would have been good for the farmer and the consumer."
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