El Nino hurting Florida farms and prices

Posted at 8:01 PM, Feb 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-02 20:01:41-05

The record breaking rain we've seen this winter is not making it easier for farmers.

They say big winds and rain are hitting at the worst possible time.

Bill McCarron wants the freshest produce he can find. He picked up limes, tomatoes, and peppers at Bedner's Farm Fresh Market in suburban Boynton Beach today.

"It's going to be a salad by the time I get through with it," he explains his dinner plans.

Farmers across Palm Beach County grow the produce which stocks shelves at Bedner's and Publix stores. They're using one word to describe this season: rough.

"The wind damage here was very, very large," Arthur Kirstein points out.

He is a coordinator for the county's Agricultural Services Center, part of the University of Florida Extension Office.

He showed us around Bedner's Farm.

"I haven't seen anything like this in quite a few years," he admitted walking past tomato and pepper plants.

He says an El Nino weather pattern is dumping way too much rain and blowing strong winds on crops during their critical growing season.

Our Storm Team 5 meteorologists say monitors at Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach recorded the fifth wettest January on record. In Vero Beach, a monthly rainfall total of nearly ten inches set a new record for the city.

Bedner's experienced 70 mph wind gusts last week, according to one of the owners.

Wilted leaves and tomatoes on the ground are signs less produce will end up on store shelves. 

"This is a very valuable crop on the ground that we've lost," Kirstein says, explaining the crop on the ground probably isn't harvestable and damaged plants may not produce any worthwhile fruit through the end of spring.

So what does it mean for you, the next time you go grocery shopping?

Kirstein thinks prices are bound to go up over the next three months. By how much? It will depend on what farmers can salvage, or re-plant and grow between now and May, when growing season ends.

"[Farmers] go through an awful lot. It's understandable why prices will go up and down," McCarron says.

He understands Mother Nature will have an impact. He says so long as vegetables and fruits taste the same, he'll pay a little extra.

Kirstein says produce should taste the same, but ears or corn, or tomatoes may be smaller than you're used to seeing.

What worries him most is the El Nino pattern still threatens local farmers and their crops.

The South Florida Water Management District recorded its wettest January since record-keeping began in 1932. The district manages water along the Kissimmee River, into Lake Okeechobee and through the Everglades into Florida Bay.

It includes all, or part of, the following counties: Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, St Lucie, Henry, Lee, Collier, Okeechobee, Glades, Highlands, Charlotte, Polk, Osceola, and Orange.