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Freeze could mean a rise in avocado dip

Janet Babin Jan 16, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: The high today in Bakersfield, California is expected to be a sunny 54 degrees. But it’s not daytime temperatures that have farmers in California’s Central Valley worried.

Tonight’s expected to be the fifth straight night below freezing. Bad news for farmers with crops still on the trees. Consumers will soon feel the pain when they reach for citrus or strawberries at the supermarket. Never mind loading up a chip with guacamole come Superbowl Sunday.

Janet Babin reports from North Carolina Public Radio.

JANET BABIN: After a five-day visit from an arctic air mass, three-quarters of California’s citrus crop is gone, according to one estimate. That could be a loss of a little more than a billion dollars. And much of the avocado crop is also at risk, worth $425 million. But farmer Andrew Brown remains optimistic.

ANDREW BROWN: We’re still hopeful that there’s some salvageable fruit out in the field. I don’t think all is lost in all locations.

Like many California growers, Brown was up watering his fields for a fourth night yesterday as temps dropped below freezing. He says consumers shouldn’t feel the pinch of higher prices for at least a few weeks. But if they are seeing a jump in prices at the grocery store now, he says don’t blame farmers.

BROWN: That has not happened at the field level yet, that’s strictly something the retailers have done, probably to take advantage of the situation.

The latest chill is the most damaging cold spell to hit California since 1998, when citrus farmers lost 85 percent of their harvest, worth $700 million.

While the jet stream tends to take a nosedive every 10 to 15 years, meteorologists can’t pinpoint why it happened this time.

BRIAN MACKEY: It was just one of the, you know, the chance things that happens during any given winter year.

Brian Mackey is with Weather Predict. His team saw the freeze coming and thinks it’ll end soon.

MACKEY: We still see some freezing conditions for the next few mornings, but on Friday is when we do expect it to warm up.

The full effect of the freeze on consumer prices can’t be calculated until next week, when inspectors will have a better handle on damage.

I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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