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Pandemic causes fruit tree shortage, higher prices at grocery stores

Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 7:32 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Fruit trees and citrus are going to be harder to come by this year—whether that’s at the grocery store or in your backyard.

Beau Woods, the owner of Tucson Tropicals, recently organized his new shipment of fruit trees, which were mostly bananas. It’s less than he was hoping for as figs, cherries, avocados and mangoes are hard to get these days.

“I ordered figs, bananas and capulin cherries,” he said. “When the truck showed up no capulin cherries.”

It’s a story he, and other fruit growers are seeing and hearing more of. His lot and others saw a surge in folks buying up fruit trees last year. There could be several reasons why, but likely due to a new hobby, could even be panic preparing, also the housing market has taken off, and a fruit tree is always a good seller for homes.

“It was hard keeping stock just because everyone wanted to buy,” Woods said.

Now, a shortage in trees, specifically fruits, is throwing a burden on businesses like his.

“The biggest issue, now, unfortunately, is still finding supply. A lot of our wholesalers through 2020 completely depleted their stock, so they had to start all the way over,” said Woods. “They’re having to grow complete new stock every 3-4 months just to meet demand.”

When he does get shipments, the trees are smaller since the turnaround time has to be quicker. It’s not just cherries and bananas, however. The USDA projects citrus production across the country will be down more than 7 percent this year, mainly due to smaller crops in California and Florida. The Texas winter storm also wiped out a large portion of citrus and fruit growers’ crops. Orange production across the U.S. dropped 11 percent compared to last.

Supply clogs and workforce issues due to COVID-19 likely also attribute to the backup. For consumers, this means grocers will have to import more, resulting in higher prices at the stores. According to the USDA, lemon imports are up already about 10 percent this year. The same USDA report stated “current fresh grapefruit grower prices are registering higher than the 5-year average. The October 2020 to January 2021 average price was $24.98 per box, 22 percent above the average price from last season for the same period.” General fruit prices have raised about 5.5 percent since last year.

For Woods, and suppliers like him, this means fewer fruit trees available to sell, right when there’s high demand.

“We love to see people grow things, but we love to be able to provide those trees to them. So, when we can’t do that, it hurts us just a little bit just in the pocket and the heart,” Woods said.

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