flooding of carrot fields

The issues posed by the flooding of agricultural land have been laid bare by Nationwide Produce group MD Tim O’Malley

Challenges posed by the weather are likely to lead to continued availability issues for veg, higher than normal levels of imports and increased prices, according to leading grower Nationwide Produce.

The issues posed by the flooding of agricultural land have been laid bare by the supplier’s group MD Tim O’Malley, who said that “just about all UK veg crops are suffering” after “grim” weather for months.

It comes as the Environment Agency confirmed this week that the October to March period was the wettest on record in the UK – a situation O’Malley said had led to “eye-watering losses” across the fresh produce sector.

He said this week that “many crops have been ploughed in due to sitting in water for too long” which was “absolutely soul-destroying” for growers.

Parsnips have been particularly impacted, and O’Malley said he expected that the UK would “soon virtually run out” of the crop – something he has never known before.

“We’re down to a trickle of UK ’snips due to disastrously poor yields caused by the crop sitting in water,” he explained. “As a nation, we mainly import our ’snips from Spain but they won’t be ready until around mid-May.”

There was a similar issue in carrots, he said, though the UK does have more import options, something it was utilising already.

O’Malley had warned of issues within the potato supply chain last year and confirmed it had been a “disastrous season” for the crop.

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“Plantings well down, yields decimated and crop left in the ground to rot due to the wet weather,” he said. “And now we’re struggling to plant the next crop and potato seed has been exceptionally short and expensive, again, all down to the wet weather.

“So, it’s looking like another potentially difficult season for spuds.”

It comes as the government’s new flood support fund has beeen widely dismissed by the sector as being too narrow in scope, rendering huge numbers of growers affected by the past six months’ poor weather ineligible. 

However, problems with volatile weather went far beyond the UK as it had also been “too wet in northern Europe, too dry in southern Europe, too wet in Africa and El Niño has caused chaos throughout South America”, said O’Malley, leading to price hikes across a range of key imported goods that was likely to continue.

O’Malley added that continued weather issues were worsening the risk to reward factor for growers, which was “off the chart” and was forcing growers to take land out of direct food production.

“We’ve had two exceptionally difficult UK veg growing seasons and it looks like we’re probably heading into a third,” he said.

“Over the next few months, I can only see availability for veg remaining tight, much higher than usual levels of imports and therefore even higher prices.”

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