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Why you’ll probably pay more for produce this season

Thanks to devastating storms in California this winter, shoppers everywhere will be paying Groceries are expensive This spring and summer.

At least 16 Atmospheric rivers Heavy rains and winds unload California between December and March, flooding the state’s growing regions and affecting strawberries, lettuce, broccoli, cherries, tomatoes and more.

Harvesting flooded farmland is illegal in California because floodwaters can bring dangerous bacteria or pollution — as a result, some farmers have to abandon their crops. Lower yields for the harvest will push up prices in the late spring and summer, and possibly through the rest of the year, Sridevi Rajagopalan, a postdoctoral researcher studying supply chains at MIT, told CBS News.

“For farmers, this disaster hit at the worst possible time,” Rajagopalan said.

In the fall and winter, shoppers across the country rely on crops grown in warmer climates such as southern California, Arizona and Mexico. But as these regions heat up in the spring and summer, Northern California products begin to dominate the market, making April critical to the nation’s supply of products.

What is an “atmospheric river” and why is it affecting America’s food supply?

These narrow systems carry heavy rainfall from the tropics to the American West Coast an average of five to six times a year and cause, on average, $1.1 billion in damage annually. California farmers rely on storms to combat drought and replenish the state’s water supply. But this winter’s extreme storm has left Thousands of acres California’s farmland is flooded — land that supports a $50 billion state industry that employs more than 420,000 people.

The latest series of storms brings more flooding to California's Central Valley

A car is caught in flood waters after a series of atmospheric river storms melted record amounts of snow in the Sierra Nevada on March 24, 2023 near Corcoran, California.

David McNew/Getty Images

What would you pay more for?

Broccoli, cauliflower, celery and lettuce prices are likely to rise — all from the “salad bowl of the world,” the Salinas Valley, which accounts for 80% of all vegetables grown in the country between April and July.

Also expect to pay more for items like tomato sauce and frozen pizza — anything with processed tomatoes, which often come from California’s Central Valley.

Daniel Sumner, director of the University of California Agricultural Issues Lab, said global supply issues have already pushed prices of processed tomatoes higher. record drought California. Central Valley farmers planted more acres of tomatoes this year, Sumner said, making winter storm damage more devastating.

“It might be 10% of the acreage, but 10% is a lot — and that’s enough to affect prices,” Sumner said.

Rain and wind have kept growers of California’s horticultural crops — think cherries, nectarines, almonds and walnuts — from planting and bees from pollinating, likely meaning fewer harvests and higher prices.

Another atmospheric river brings heavy rain to California

Strawberry fields are flooded in Pajaro, California on March 15, 2023. Flooding from a levee breach on the Pajaro River put about 2,000 residents under mandatory evacuation orders.

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Farmers and agricultural workers are feeling the pressure

“There will be a lot of delayed harvest this year,” said Linda Luca, director of marketing and communications for General Produce, a Sacramento-based distributor that supplies food to more than 1,500 clients in northern and central California, southern Oregon. and Western Nevada — with stores and schools, restaurants, prisons and more.

Their trucks can’t even get to some clients, as flooding and power outages have made some roads and bridges in the region impassable.

California cherries, for example, will now be harvested four to five weeks later than usual, Luca said. And this not only raises prices for consumers, but also financially hurts those who would normally harvest the crops.

“Unlike many other industries, (agriculture) is completely limited by time. It’s not like a factory where if you’re closed for a few weeks you can come back and unlock the factory and go back to work,” said Evan Wiig, a California-based nonprofit, family Director of Community Alliance Membership and Communications with Farmers

How climate change is driving “precipitation whiplash”.

The rapid transition between severe droughts and floods in the state is called “precipitation whiplash.” Atmospheric rivers — which are notoriously difficult to predict and prepare for — are expected to become more common and more severe as global temperatures rise in the coming years.

Wiig said when additional rain is welcome after three Historic drought year In California, the threat of extreme weather is becoming more serious on every farmer’s mind.

“California has always been an extreme ecology. We’ve always been a place of fires and floods and droughts,” Wiig said. “But over the last few years it’s been ramped up and it’s really starting to take its toll.”

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Cara Korte

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