California freeze to boost prices of fruit, vegetables


LOS ANGELES The icy blast that has devastated California fruit harvests will soon be felt in grocery stores, as the prices of fruits and vegetables will rise in the coming days, food industry sources said yesterday.

Uncertainty about the broad economic effects of the crop damage continues, because the status of some products, such as lemons and grapefruit, will not be known for possibly two weeks, state officials said. But it is likely that the higher prices will be felt far beyond the California borders and in commodities that were not damaged, analysts said.

The California citrus damage means "You are looking at something in the order of a 10 percent reduction over last year's availability of fresh fruit nationwide," said Frank Limacher, an agriculture economist with the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

"My guess is that people are going to eat more apples and bananas, and very possibly we'll see price increases in those commodities as well."

Destruction of crops was pegged in the hundreds of millions of dollars. California agriculture officials yesterday outlined the broad crop damage, which extended to oranges, tangerines, lemons, strawberries, avocado, carrots, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and celery grown in various regions of the state.

By some estimates, 20 percent of the state's avocado crop has been ruined in the past several days. Also, there are fears about Valencia oranges, which will not be ready for harvest until March.

"Damage will partly depend on how long temperatures remain low," the state Department of Agriculture said in a statement. "If there is slow warming, damage will be less severe."

"It could be a matter of days that you see prices react to this," said Bob Krauter, spokesman for the California Farm Bureau Federation. "A lot of people in the industry can't remember when it was so cold for so long in such a widespread area of the state."

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