While the British public and holidaymakers may have resented the mild and damp conditions this summer, it made for much better growing conditions and gave some confidence to producers in a challenging economic landscape.
However, this uninspiring but fruitful weather cannot be relied upon to come every summer, and as global warming becomes an increasing challenge, growers will have to shoulder even more risk.
This is why earlier this week Tesco told the Telegraph some of its farmers had agreed to plant more crops this year, over fears climate change will spoil more of their harvest.
Climate change’s impact on fresh produce
Under the agreements, Tesco lowered forecasts for how much two of its onion and carrot suppliers will grow per hectare of land, and is preparing to ask suppliers to plant more fields so their output is the same.
“We’re providing immediate support in the wake of recent inflationary challenges, as well as supporting suppliers, farmers and growers in tackling more long-term challenges such as climate change and nature loss,” said Tom Mackintosh, director of fresh produce and horticulture at Tesco.
These plans were met with scepticism from Ged Futter, director of Retail Mind, who questioned the motives of the retailer and claimed they “want abundance”.
However, Jack Ward, CEO of British Growers Association, says this news is “encouraging” as the costs of planting crops like carrots are high compared to things like winter wheat. He explains the plans mean Tesco is underwriting some of the climate risk growers are facing. With crops like carrots being expensive to plant, many growers were not as inclined to take the risk in case of “global crop failure” so this investment was likely to relieve some of that burden.
Even if this investment does provide support to some growers, the solution it offers is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to climate change’s impact on fresh produce supply. Every variety of fruit and veg will face different challenges. From apples being more at risk of sun scorch, to cauliflowers potentially needing to be grown further north to have the right temperatures, we are facing a reckoning with UK supply which will require enormous investment across the board.
UK’s final choice when it comes to fresh
And beyond our shores, while the consensus is the UK will remain a pretty good place for growing, the same is less clear for European growers.
As the heat climbs, European supply will be less predictable – as we have already started to experience with shortages of core salad lines appearing earlier this year. Poor weather in southern Europe and north Africa meant supply was negatively impacted, and what little supply remained was prioritised to other European nations. Post-Brexit, the UK is now the last choice when it comes to fresh produce, and if European supply constricts, why would Spanish growers choose an external buyer instead of a cheaper and easier EU option?
We will not be able to rely on our European neighbours as the years go by, so retailers will have to support homegrown more than ever to have a steady stream of supply. This investment from Tesco is a good start, but much more will need to be done to fully future-proof the fresh produce sector and keep growers from walking away in droves.