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Higher prices for fruit, veggies ahead as heavy rains cripple crops

In the South, rainfall totals are more than 20 percent higher than normal, resulting in billions of damaged crops that could boost the average price of fruits and vegetables by 10 percent. NBC's Janet Shamlian reports.

Last year, Georgia farmer Duke Lane’s orchards were parched.

But this year, the owner of Lane Southern Orchards in Fort Valley, grower of one of the largest peach crops in the nation, has the opposite problem.

After a summer of nonstop downpours, Lane has lost a full one third of his yield, he said.

"We were picking in water for most of the summer,” Lane said. “And so that’s a problem for the peaches — not being picked in the proper time.”

Though the peaches are larger because of the rain — softball size rather than baseball size — the numbers are down, and the excessive amount of water make them less sweet and tasty.

And Lane isn't the only farmer suffering, either. Across the Southeast, the ground is too soaked to cut wheat, and cotton and peanut crops are drowning, growers say.

“This is the worst amount of water we’ve had since I’ve been farming,” Larry Redmond, owner of Shiloh Farms in Guyton, Ga., told NBC News.

Indeed in Georgia, rainfall totals are 34 percent higher than normal, and in North and South Carolina they are up 25 percent, and Alabama is 22 percent above normal precipitation. And the outlook doesn’t look any drier.

“The forecast for the Southeast is for a continued, above average wet pattern going in through the fall,” said Greg Forbes, a severe weather expert at The Weather Channel in Atlanta. Meanwhile, the West is in a drought.

The excessive rain in the Southeast means billions of dollars of damaged crops, according to some estimates. Add a drought in the West, and that could mean higher prices at the grocery store for staples such melons, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Heavy rainfall across the southeast United States caused crop output to slow across the region. Ricky Volpe, a research economist for the USDA, warns consumers may see a spike in prices for some fruits and vegetables.

“I would expect to see average prices for fruits and vegetables maybe 10 percent higher this fall than they were in the spring or where they are right now just because there’s going to be less supply available,” predicted Bernard Weinstein, an agricultural economist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Although the farms of the Southeast have been hardest hit by the unusually wet summer, Vermont's corn crops are also soaked, and in upstate New York, saturated fields have crippled plows and other workhorses of the farm, endangering the pea crop as well as tomatoes and even hearty pumpkins.

“I’ve never sold green pumpkins at Halloween,” said Jack Moore, owner of Gro-Moore Farms in Henrietta, N.Y. “But you never know, might be this year."

The pumpkin-selling season is still months away, but for farmers are hoping last year’s severe drought and this year’s heavy rains are behind them, and that Mother Nature will be kinder to them next year.

“It’s gonna hurt cause you know money that’s made here rolls over to the community about seven times," said Georgia farmer Lane. "That money’s going to be missed.”

Jeff Black of NBC News contributed to this report.