Cauliflower growers have played down concerns over food waste on UK farms, following reports that £60,000 worth of the veg would be ploughed up at a Kent farm while retailers bought imported varieties from Europe.
The report in The Sunday Times alleged retailers were overlooking British produce in favour of Spanish cauliflowers after revealing that Geoffrey Philpott’s farm in Broadstairs, Kent, would see about 40 acres of cauliflowers go to waste this week.
However, Richard Mowbray, vice chairman of the Brassica Growers Association, said retailers would be “foolish” to supply their produce from the UK alone, given the vulnerability of the crop to UK weather.
“You’d have other seasons where there’d be absolutely no cauliflowers in Kent in February, so as a retailer you’d be foolish to plan your whole programme on an area which is inherently erratic,” said Mowbray.
This amount of waste is not unusual, according to Mowbray, as the long growing period and short harvest time of cauliflower means the crop is more vulnerable to seasonal fluctuations.
“In the annual cycle of cauliflower, it’s not unusual to get a period of time that you have some crop go to waste. Generally cauliflower was running very late in November and December 2016, then it caught up in February time,” said Mowbray. Last season there were similar issues throughout the year, with oversupply before Christmas and shortages in the new year.
However, Jessica Sinclair Taylor, head of communications at food waste charity Feedback, said retailers should do more to ensure less food was wasted within the supply chain.
“The sad truth is that for every apple, parsnip or cauliflower that ends up on a supermarket shelf and is eventually eaten, there will be many that never make it off the farm,” said Taylor. “The problem we face right now is the lack of the data we need to find the solutions. There just isn’t the transparency we need across all supermarket supply chains on where waste occurs, including at the very root of their supply, on farms.”