Due to the drought and early spring, some retailers were limited in their local produce sourcing options and pricing. Photo by Thinkstock
The drought conditions and early spring in some parts of the country drove up prices of locally sourced fruits and vegetables, limited availability and hurt produce quality.
At GFF Foods, in Moore, Okla., Produce Manager and co-owner David Dozier wasn’t able to source the usual local tomatoes, squash or peaches due to the hot, dry weather.
“Usually we have Stratford [Okla.] peaches, but this year there were no Stratford peaches at all at any of the grocery stores,” Dozier told SN.
Most of Oklahoma has an “exceptional” or “extreme” drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor website, produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Oklahoma cantaloupe and watermelon crops were also hurt by the drought. Dozier was able to get a supply late in the summer from a local grower who irrigates, but the melon prices have been double what they were two years ago, he said.
WH Refresh blog: Predicting Price Increases from the Drought
Dozier has had to source tomatoes and squash from a warehouse that cost more than produce from nearby farms and also don’t have the draw of “local.”
Customers don’t buy as much of the produce sourced from a warehouse, Dozier said.
“Here anytime you put the word ‘locally grown’ or ‘homegrown’ your sales will probably double compared to what you would if you just buy from the supplier — from the warehouse.”
One bright spot for Oklahoma crops was okra, which thrived in the hot weather. GFF Foods was able to source okra at half the usual price.
Despite the drought, Chicago-based Jewel-Osco was still able to get local produce, but had to move to growers in different areas in order to do so.
“As a result of the drought, we have had to go to some areas that we have not normally. However, we have tried to stay in the Midwest whenever possible,” said Karen May, external communications manager, Jewel-Osco.
“Also, the drought did have an impact on some commodity pricing and availability, most notably with watermelon and corn,” she said.
According to Marsh Supermarkets Director of Produce Dave Rhodes, the Indianapolis-based chain was still able to source local product, but there were some quality issues.
“We use so many different local growers in Indiana and Ohio that if one grower was tight another grower would have our needs,” he said.
Read more: Drought Impact Seen as Minimal
The drought didn’t hurt Onalaska, Wis.-based Festival Foods’ local offerings, because of its growers’ ability to irrigate.
“For us, we’ve been pretty fortunate. I’d say our local offerings at Festival have been pretty normal,” said Ted Comeau, produce director for Festival Foods.
“We have a couple local growers who have the ability to irrigate, so they’ve been able to ride out the drought … and I haven’t had a lot of issues.
“There was some concern on sweet corn earlier in the season, but they ended up getting green at the last possible second, so it kind of saved them a little bit there.”
However, the early spring in Wisconsin that was followed by a frost hurt the apple harvest.
“We’ve been working with a local grower for quite a few years, and he was one of the fortunate ones as well,” Comeau said, adding that the apple grower still had about 85% of his crop.
“We were still able to get a good supply, but obviously the prices are a little higher because he has plenty of places to go with his apples.”
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