NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - It's been a lousy fall for grocery shoppers. First the cost of tomatoes set new records, and now those lucky enough to find grapefruits can expect to pay more than $1 a piece.
Hurricane damage was expected to take a chunk out of Florida's grapefruit crop. But it is worse than forecast. The state normally grows 80 percent of the nation's grapefruits. That production is down 68 percent because of the fall's devastating hurricanes, according to government figures released Friday.
"The growers who have grapefruits to sell will do nicely, but so few have grapefruits," said Susan Pollack, an agricultural economist with the United States Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. National production was down 55 percent.
And the situation may continue to spread to other crops as well. Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne caused more than $2 billion in agricultural damage in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Some of most severely damaged crops include tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces, green peppers and citrus.
Pollack says the picture may get even worse because farmers are still assessing how badly the grapefruit trees were damaged. The hurricanes hit Florida's grapefruit region just before the harvest when the fruits are heavy.
While packers are shipping at least some grapefruit in those holiday boxes, quality fruit is going to be a hot commodity.
"The prices are unprecedented," said Allen Zimmerman, a produce buyer for the Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn. "The prices we see on things we take for granted are terribly, terribly expensive."
They've seen almost no Florida grapefruits.
Even before the hurricanes many grapefruit growers were struggling because of decreasing demand in the United States for grapefruits. Japan remains one of the few strong export markets.
The current situation might be the final straw for those farmers with marketable land, said Ray Gilmer, a spokesman for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association. He predicted that some would take their insurance money and sell their land.
"The situation for oranges isn't as bad," said Pollack. While production is down 31 percent in Florida, most of the state's oranges are used for juice, and there was a record high stock left from earlier production. Producers also could get additional oranges from Brazil.
Consumers shouldn't lose hope. Florida vegetables planted after the hurricanes are finally beginning to arrive at grocery stores.
"Prices are getting closer to where we should be because the shipments from Florida are beginning to increase," said Gary Lucier, an agricultural economist, for the United States Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.
Within the last few days wholesale prices of tomatoes dropped, he said, to 53 cents a pound. Though still higher than the normal 30 cents to 40 cents a pound, the new price is significantly better than a few weeks ago when it hit 99 cents a pound or 225 percent higher than the same time last year.
Lucier called the fall weather "a perfect storm for tomatoes." While the hurricanes devastated Florida, severe rainstorms hurt produce production in California and Mexico, which also provide much of the nation's fall and winter vegetables.
He said that they normally panic when vegetable shipments are 25 percent lower than normal, "But this time we're pleased."