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Freeze of Florida vegetables doubles some of prices

January 24, 1997

MIAMI (AP) _ A freeze wiped out up to 85 percent of Florida’s winter vegetable crop, and agricultural officials say that consumers will find higher prices in the produce section.

The price of green beans, squash, cucumbers, sweet corn and other fresh produce will soar in the next few days in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest, the officials said.

Price increases started Monday in Florida _ the day after an arctic blast swept through the state _ with wholesale prices on many vegetables hitting the roof.

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

``Green beans that were going for 89 cents a pound are already up to $1.99 at some supermarkets here,″ Ms. Glynn said. ``You shouldn’t be surprised if tomatoes hit $3 a pound.″

They had been going for about 80 cents a pound.

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.

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

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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