Why do vegetables cost so much? The low dollar, and a U.S. drought

Fresh produce is offered for sale in Vancouver.
Fresh produce is offered for sale in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canadians paid more for vegetables than at any other point in this century, numbers published today by Statistics Canada show. Fresh vegetables cost almost 15 per cent more in March than in March of last year.

Beef and pork prices are also up substantially.

The low dollar nudges meat and vegetable prices higher for Canadian consumers, but for different reasons, explains University of Guelph professor Sylvain Charlebois.

Vegetables mostly have to be imported from the United States or Mexico – 81 per cent of vegetables and fruits eaten in Canada are imported. In either case, they’re paid for in U.S. dollars.

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With a low Canadian dollar, our livestock is more attractive to U.S. buyers, which drives up prices here. As well, the U.S. drought and an outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea, a pig disease, in the United States have led Americans to look north as a way of rebuilding their herds of pigs and cattle.

“It seems to be costing more for us to keep our own livestock in our own back yard,” Charlebois says. “Year-to-year, we’re looking at some significant increases for both pork and beef.”

The years-long drought in California has cut vegetable production there. That has also led to sticker shock in the produce aisle recently – not only do buyers’ Canadian dollars not go as far as they did a few years ago, there has been less produce to buy in the first place.

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READ MORE: After California: What the state’s water crisis means for Canada’s food security

A report published by the University of Guelph at the end of last year predicted that the average Canadian household would spend $345 more on food in 2016.

Charlebois predicts that produce prices will ease as Canadian-grown vegetables start to appear in stores this summer, and as more rain falls on parched California.

“You’re starting to see California come back,” he says.

(However, some observers warn that despite recent rain, the state’s water crisis hasn’t ended.)

Fri, Jan 22: The rising price of vegetables is proving to be quite difficult to swallow for British Columbians. Ted Chernecki looks at whether the cost will continue to soar.

British Columbians cope with soaring vegetable prices
British Columbians cope with soaring vegetable prices


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