As a result of drought conditions that have gripped the Midwest throughout much of 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in early September designated 85 of the state’s 88 counties as natural disaster areas.
Through the end of September, the Columbus, Ohio, area received more than 25 inches of precipitation, compared to about 41 inches for the same period in 2011, according to the National Weather Service. Average rainfall for the first nine months of the year, since the service began keeping records, is a little more than 31 inches.
Dry and warm conditions left their mark on local fruit and vegetable production, produce suppliers said.
Many said the drought was the most notable development in the Ohio produce business in 2012.
“The heat certainly had as much of an effect in late June and early July,” said Tony DiNovo, president of Columbus-based wholesaler DNO Inc.
He said unseasonably high temperatures in early spring brought out fruit blooms that subsequent cold temperatures killed off.
“We basically had no cherries available from Michigan, and apples were pretty much devastated and so were peaches,” he said.
It was tough on suppliers that relied heavily on local production, DiNovo said.
“The vegetables are a hard thing to determine, but we saw stressful tomatoes and things like that were picked up locally with that July stuff,” he said.
There was local product available during summer months, but the drought shortened the season’s duration, said Mark Mithalski, a buyer with Ravenna, Ohio-based Sirna & Sons Produce.
“It finished earlier because the crop or plant is not holding up as long as they like it,” he said.
The drought might have shortened the local season, but supplies continued to flow from other production areas, said Bill Schuler, president and chief executive officer of the Wilder, Ky.-based Castellini Group.
“The areas that were impacted just ended their seasons earlier, so we had to move to another area,” he said.
Products that did make it through the drought unscathed were costlier to get, said Jarrod Clabaugh, director of communications with the Columbus-based Ohio Restaurant Association.
“I think the cost of products has increased based on issues related to the drought,” he said.
There’s some concern for next year, too, Clabaugh said.
“Commodity prices are going to skyrocket in light of the drought,” he said.