Gem Lettuce

Growers face a ‘major challenge’ as production falters in the high temperatures

High temperatures are causing havoc for British veg growers, who are facing one of the most challenging seasons in living memory.

After warnings this weekend the UK was on the brink of a lettuce shortage due to the ongoing heatwave, the British Growers Association confirmed a wide variety of home-grown veg had been hit by difficult conditions.

Following one of the wettest and coldest Aprils on record, growers were now having to contend with near drought-like conditions, meaning some crops had stopped growing altogether, said British Growers Association CEO Jack Ward.

Carrots, brassicas and root veg were particularly badly hit by the heatwave, he warned, though salads were worst affected as demand has rocketed.

Retailers sold an extra five million lettuces last week compared to the same period in 2017, according to the British Leafy Salad Growers Association, with consumers taking home a total of 18 million lettuces as the barbecue season reached its height.

Salad growers have warned of impending shortages on supermarket shelves because of the spike in demand while temperatures surpassing 30⁰C take their toll on production levels.

“Temperatures in excess of 23⁰C have been shown to drive up demand for salad, but when they rise above 28-30⁰C it starts to affect production,” said Ward.

“Accepting that most of what we grow here is not a Mediterranean plant, the majority does not thrive when there is a lack of water and very high temperatures.

“Even if you have access to water, irrigation is difficult as weeks without rain means the ground has become hard so water just runs off.”

These conditions were set to continue for at least the next two weeks, Ward said. It meant growers could soon struggle to meet that increased demand, warned trade body BLSGA, with the lettuce crop wilting under heatwave conditions.

“While it’s great news that leafy salad sales are up, that’s just half the story,” said a BLSGA spokesman. “In all of the major growing areas, the hot weather has affected all our growers and we may be seeing some gaps on retailers’ shelves in the next two weeks as the heatwave continues.”

If a shortage were to emerge in British supply, it would lead to “inevitable” wholesale price rises, said the BLSGA, leading to lettuce being flown in from the US or imported from Spain, where limited quantities are grown in mountainous regions throughout the summer months.

It comes as rainfall remains scarce amid the threat of a hosepipe ban – already in force in Northern Ireland - though growers are yet to see limits imposed by water boards, and many have abstraction licenses which allow them to draw from nearby rivers and reservoirs. However, some such licenses are linked to the levels of the rivers they are drawing from and are facing shortages as rivers begin to run low.