“It was bugs,” said Barbara Whyman, who has been selling produce for Tutti Frutti for three decades. “They just cleaned us out.” Whyman said warm temperatures and a lack of rain allowed pests to flourish.
The bagrada bug, a pest that was discovered in California in 2008, has been a particular nuisance, devouring acres of brassicas such as broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts. In years past, the bagrada population was kept at bay thanks to cool summer evenings and hillsides of wild mustard that distracted the bugs from row crops. But this year, warmer evening temperatures and bone dry hillsides left farmers exposed.
Produce buyers lament that it has been substantially more difficult to find product this year. FreshPoint's Karen Beverlin visits the Wednesday Santa Monica market every week, looking for specialty items for high-end restaurants such as Per Se in New York and Providence in Los Angeles. She said that this year she has to explain to chef clients that all bets were off; she simply didn't know what she'd find.