Wet weather farming

Retailers should brace themselves for fresh produce supply challenges in coming months as extreme weather threatens both UK and imported crops, suppliers have warned.

In the UK, crops have been thrown into chaos by warm temperatures and heavy rainfall that the Met Office has linked to El Niño and climate change. December was one of the warmest and wettest on record, with average temperatures about 4C (7.2F) above the long-term average, the Met Office says.

Supplies of carrots and parsnips were likely to be hit because “field-stored” vegetables needed dry, cold soil to remain fresh in the field until they are harvested, warned John Sedgwick, strategic agronomy manager for Produce World Group. “This will inevitably have a significant impact on how much product will be of the right specification to make it into the final pack.”. 

Heavy rainfall had also affected root veg harvesting, with tractors struggling to get into waterlogged fields, said Sedgwick. “If wet conditions do persist then next season will also be affected as some early season carrots will need to be drilled in February,” he added.

Meanwhile, warm temperatures have caused other veg to mature earlier than expected, with reports of asparagus spears reaching almost full height in Herefordshire this week, two months ahead of their usual early harvest. The “early spring” had thrown “many different crops” into confusion, with cauliflowers maturing “very quickly” and new season Jerseys expected earlier this year, said Matt Jones, senior buyer at Reynolds. Kale had been hit by increased levels of mildew, leaf rot and plant disease botrytis, he added.

In Spain, high temperatures at the beginning of the season had caused “substantially increased” pest levels and fungus, said Jones. “We expect an early end of season for round tomatoes and plum tomatoes, with a noticeable dip in supply in May, and reduced availability of cucumbers over the next month.” 

Supply issues were also expected at the end of February for yellow peppers and the end of March for red and green peppers, he added.