Chilling Prospects For Fresh Produce

A record Christmas cold snap that struck the $8 billion California fruit and vegetable industry promises to put a big financial chill on farmers, the state economy, and consumers nationwide. Besides wiping out 80% of the $400 million navel orange crop, the freeze also destroyed as much as 20% of the state's $208 million avocado crop and 80% of the $30 million tangerine crop. Farm officials have already pegged losses at about $1.5 billion. Growers fear that tree damage could affect orange production for years.

Navel orange prices are already soaring. Distributors expect prices for a pound of premium navel oranges to rise from about 79~ to $1.79 by mid-January.