AUGUSTA — Expect to pay the cost of the summer’s above-average rain at the produce stand.
Fields throughout the Southeast were flooded, destroying crops and inflating prices for fruit and vegetables. Some produce sellers can’t get their hands on summer favorites, leaving customers to balk at the prices for the limited quantity available.
“When they come, they’re ready to buy. If we don’t have it, they get upset,” said Mattie Judge, who sells produce at the Augusta State Farmers’ Market on Fifth Street.
This summer, Judge has had a tough time finding squash, okra, butter beans and string beans to stock her stand. On Friday, she had a few bags of butter beans and peas for sale, but at a price of $5 per bag compared to last summer’s $4 price tag.
“Fruits and vegetables, they are very expensive this year, I guess because we had a lot of rain and things didn’t produce like they should,” Judge said.
Like most of Georgia, Augusta received rainfall amounts far exceeding normal. In June, Augusta Regional Airport measured 10.83 inches of rain, the wettest June on record. July recorded 9.05 inches of rain, 4.72 inches above normal.
Produce seller Alex Kenner said business is slow at his stand. Customers aren’t buying as much produce this year because of the high cost and the poor quality.
When fields receive too much rain, the water dilutes the fruits’ sugar system, ruining the taste, Kenner said.
“We’re not making very much profit this year,” he said. “We’ve had too much wet and not enough sunshine.”
At Kenner’s stand, watermelons were selling for $4 to $8, peaches for $12 a peck and tomatoes $20 a case.
Produce seller Frank Bibbs, who buys fruit at the South Carolina State Farmers Market in West Columbia, S.C., to bring to his Augusta stand, said the prices went up on everything he sells compared to last year. The cost of corn was $16 a box compared to $10 to $12 last summer, and a box of apples was up $5 to $35.
“Whenever you’ve got something like this weather that makes them defective, the price goes up,” Bibbs said.
Leo Charette, of Leo’s Produce Inc., said he was forced to purchase produce from farther away because so many crops in the Southeast were ruined this summer.
“We are actually in a crisis,” he said. “There are no tomatoes in Florida or Georgia. We are having to pull out of California.”
Leo’s Produce supplies fruit and vegetables to 130 area restaurants and school systems in six counties.
“Squash is $30 a box right now, which is ridiculous. This time of year it should be $6 a box,” he said.