JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The owners of local grocery stores tell Action News they were relieved when the rising cost of popular produce items like lettuce and broccoli were slashed by almost 50 percent in the past week, but now they face the threat of even higher prices after a Florida freeze has local farmers questioning how their own crops will survive fluctuating temperatures.
Northeast Florida farmers like Danny Johns are fighting to save crops that have endured temperatures as high as 83 and as low as 21 in the past week alone.
Johns spent all day Monday desperately undoing the work that he completed on Sunday, as temperatures plummeted into the 20s and nearly killed his livelihood.
"We came out at 8 o'clock Sunday night and the vines were starting to turn black so we went ahead and covered them with dirt at that point."
Johns is the President of the North Florida Growers Exchange and says farmers across the area scrambled to cover crops Sunday before too much damage was done.
On Monday he pulled four inches of dirt back off his land in an effort to save 680 acres of potatoes in St. Johns and Putnam counties.
"We're trying to make the best out of a bad situation. The dirt protected them for a few hours. Now, we're trying to lift the vines back up, get the sun on them, and let the dry wind help as much as it can."
It's a farmer's gamble that growers across the country have been betting on for weeks.
Action News recently took you inside a local produce company, that for the past month has paid top dollar for leafy greens, broccoli and strawberries, after a West Coast freeze left them hard to come by. At that same time, Florida's unusually warm weather allowed local farmers to speed up production and fill in the gaps, which kept prices low for consumers. But after Florida's weekend freeze things may change, and consumers' prices could go up no matter what.
"We aren't sure how bad the damage is. Should we have covered? Should we have let them be? That all depends on the weather later this week."
Temperatures in North Florida are expected to jump on Tuesday, which could help local farmers.
"If we have a crop disaster here, there are other states that are growing them. That hurts us because we don't get the spike in prices that we would on an open-market system, but at the same time, it keeps the prices stabilized for the consumer."
While products from the West Coast injured in a freeze late last year are arriving quicker then originally projected, another freeze expected on the West Coast this week could send prices skyrocketing no matter what if crops there are damaged further.
Produce distributors tell me they should have a better idea how bad the damage in Florida is by Tuesday morning. If it's extensive, it could leave them with a 10-day gap in product, which could drive prices up through mid-March.