The freeze squeeze


Published: Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 11:33 p.m.

Getting your Vitamin C this cold season may cost more than usual.

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In downtown Los Angeles, wholesale distributor Mario Alvarez Jr. said he has seen prices impacted by the freeze in California.

Photos by The Associated Press

Several nights below freezing destroyed up to 75 percent of the citrus crop in California, a primary shipper of navel oranges this time of year, according to The Associated Press.

As a result, citrus prices may triple, the report said.

Thomas Spreen, chairman of Food and Resource Economics at the University of Florida, said prices will go up locally because of supply shortages and, later on, citrus may be more difficult to find in local supermarkets.

"The price of them will be out of sight," he said.

Florida oranges usually are used for juice, but that may change as the prices for oranges in their fruit form increase. Spreen said around 95 percent of Florida oranges are used for juice because they don't look as nice as California navel oranges.

The affected crops aren't just citrus either. AP reports that other California fruits and vegetable crops also have been destroyed by the cold, among them avocados, strawberries and even flowers.

While some produce may be imported from other countries to help support demand for fruits and vegetables in the off season, there may not be enough to satisfy demand.

"There isn't a ready supply of imports to fill the void," Spreen said.

Publix Media and Community Relations Department Manager Dwaine Stevens said Publix anticipates a tightening of citrus supplies but for right now will maintain "business as usual"

Richard Kinney, vice president of Florida Citrus Packers, said there is a silver lining to California's freeze. He said the increasing prices will help provide a level of security for Florida farmers.

"It's very expensive to be a farmer in this country," Kinney said.

No one wishes this kind of problem on anyone, but it's part of the risk you take by being a farmer, he said. This kind of price spike can provide some financial buffer that becomes crucial with the unpredictability of the weather.

Dan Richey, president of Riverfront Groves in Vero Beach, said, "These are the risks you take going in."

As a result of the shortage of oranges, Richey said he may ship more oranges to be sold fresh, instead of being processed into juice.

People tend to "shop with their eyes," which makes them pick California oranges, but it's a different story when you rip into them, Kinney said.

"(The Florida orange) is just a better piece of fruit," Kinney said.

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