Big Apple facing gut-wrenching produce $ hikes
- Last Updated: 2:35 AM, July 19, 2012
- Posted: 11:18 PM, July 18, 2012
New Yorkers could be forking over more green for their summer fruits and salads — as record-breaking heat waves and droughts shrivel crops across the nation, sending prices soaring.
Dozens of field-picked vegetables and fruits got baked out of business in the past three weeks, causing overnight shortages at Hunts Point in The Bronx, the world’s largest produce marketplace.
Fresh-picked cucumbers, for example, have soared 57 percent at the wholesale level since the start of July.
Boston lettuce has skyrocketed 80 percent, while blueberries are up 69 percent.
“Wholesale prices for certain field crops are becoming a lot higher than expected,” said Terry Long, an analyst at the US Department of Agriculture.
Long tracks prices and supplies at the nation’s wholesale markets like Hunts Point, which helps feed more than 22 million people in the metropolitan area.
Long said most of the agri-pain was being felt by smaller, regional farmers.
Big commercial growers, he said, escaped much of the Mother Nature’s wrath because they have the money to install extensive irrigation and mechanized gear, such as mobile cooling chambers in the fields.
Other crops, like tomatoes, largely beat the heat with greenhouses, irrigation and fields in cooler Quebec.
As a result, tomato prices are virtually unchanged.
“The price pressures on supply and demand are affecting only the crops in regions exposed to unusual heat and drought, without the benefits of irrigation and commercial growing,” Long said.
Among the lost crops of the summer of 2012 are several beloved local favorites piled at roadside stands, such as fresh fixings for salads, and succulent vine-ripened Jersey beefsteak tomatoes.
“The local sweet corn crops that people wait for all year, like Connecticut Sweet and Tennessee Sweet corn, are going to be in short supply,” Long said.
He said pickings also could be meager at dozens of greenmarkets in the Big Apple, due to weather-related losses at organic farms upstate and in Connecticut.
The big wholesale price hikes are hitting restaurants and grocery stores as early as this week — but might not be noticeable right away.
“Restaurants have a lot of wiggle room with salads because it’s one of their higher-margin items,” said Jonathan Probber, a hospitality industry consultant.
“If an operator has to spend a few more cents for his salad ingredients, he’ll just eat the costs,” Probber said. “He doesn’t want to raise his menu prices right now and offend customers. He’s already selling $1 worth of produce for $4.95 or $5.95.”
Grocery stores will probably beat produce inflation by simply not stocking pricey items, and instead directing shoppers to other marked-down items, said the USDA’s Long.
In addition, those heaps of local sweet corn in the aisles of your local grocery store — which tend to go down in price as the summer weeks tick off, and farm crops ripen — may not drop in price as they have in the past, Long added.