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Freeze of Florida vegetables more than doubles some prices

January 23, 1997

MIAMI (AP) _ Green beans, squash, sweet corn and tomatoes could more than double in price in the Northeast and Midwest by next week because of a freeze in South Florida that caused nearly $300 million in crop damage.

``Prices for fresh vegetables are going to skyrocket,″ Dade County Farm Bureau spokeswoman Kathleen Glynn said Thursday.

Already, green beans, which were 89 cents a pound, were up to $1.99 at some Miami supermarkets, and tomatoes, which had sold for 80 cents a pound, were expected to hit $3.

``I’m just cutting down, not buying them until the prices go down,″ shopper Keith Storch grumbled at a Publix supermarket in Miami.

Temperatures that plunged to 24 degrees on Sunday destroyed an estimated 85 percent of Dade County’s green beans, yellow squash, zucchini, hot peppers and sweet peppers, and 75 percent of the sweet corn. Only 40 percent of the tomatoes were lost because farmers sprayed them to form an insulating coat of ice.

Dade County’s fields are the top supplier of winter vegetables to the North and Midwest. Normally, crops in Mexico and Arizona can pick up some of the slack, but they were also badly damaged by an earlier freeze.

Wholesale prices were already higher before the latest freeze, and agricultural experts said it is only a matter of days before shoppers outside Florida see the difference in the produce aisle.

Squash, for example, went from $15 to $30 Thursday for a 30-pound box on the wholesale market.

Sweet corn went up from $12 to $16 for a crate of four dozen ears, and the price is expected to double in the next few weeks as the corn from the smaller, more heavily damaged stalks is harvested.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture placed losses for Dade’s winter vegetable crops at $93 million, which would push the statewide damage total to almost $300 million, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford said. That’s the most severe crop loss in Florida this decade.

Crawford requested federal disaster aid for Dade and 19 other counties that together account for much of the state’s $6 billion agricultural industry.

Farmers complained they didn’t get enough warning of the sudden temperature drop Saturday night.

Crawford has called for the return of the national agricultural forecast, which was cut last year in a federal budget squeeze, or the creation of a state-run service to replace it.

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