With hundreds of millions in lost fruits and vegetables, an unexpected freeze puts Texan farmers and American grocers in a tough spot.

By Tim Nelson
March 02, 2021

Last month, winter storms crippled Texas' power infrastructure, leaving many across the Lone Star State without heat and power at a time when temperatures plunged towards record lows. While the legacy of the state's isolated power grid's failure will be felt locally in the form of burst pipes, boiled water, and bulging utility bills, it turns out that folks thousands of miles away might be subject to the aftershocks of this weather event.

As it turns out, a deep freeze in Texas can have a pretty devastating impact on the state's crops in the heart of the winter growing season, potentially pushing up produce prices both within the state and around the country. As the Texas Farm Bureau told the Washington Post, only three out of the more than 40 different vegetable crops grown during Texas' winter months were expected to survive the freeze. There's no final calculation with regards to the total value of lost and damaged crops, but the organization's initial estimates peg the number somewhere in the nine figures. 

Almost everything that grows from Dallas to the Rio Grande border town of Laredo suffered. From leafy greens to watermelons, few crops were spared, leaving farmers scrambling to see if their crop insurance covered the losses. Texas Citrus Mutual, a grower's organization, estimates a loss of 55 percent of Texas' grapefruits, as well as an astounding 98 percent of the late-planted Valencia orange crop. While onions, cabbage, and potatoes were hearty enough to fare the best, farmers of onions and cabbage still say they lost about 20 percent of what they put in the ground. 

Winter Storm Uri Texas
Credit: Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

With farmers facing hundreds of thousands in losses, the effects could reverberate throughout the supply chain. Less produce will be available locally, impacting local grocers and food banks. As Texas is one of only a few parts of the country (normally) capable of growing fruits and vegetables in the middle of the winter, grocers across the country may have to reshuffle their supply chains to get a hold of what they need. That could mean higher prices, especially if replacement fruits and vegetables face a longer journey from farm to produce section. 

Given the timing of the winter storms, it's simply not a case of cutting losses and starting over, either. Compared to another historic South Texas freeze in December of 1989, a significantly greater number of crops were already in the ground when the February 2021 freeze hit, making it too late to replant. In fact, problems are likely to linger into the spring growing season, given that some of those seeds were already in the ground before it froze over. 

So if your kale is more expensive at some point in the near future, Texas is the reason. It's obviously not ideal to pay more for produce at a time when budgets are already strained, but it sure beats getting stuck with a $5,000 electricity bill.

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