wonky veg food waste

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It’s finally raining. Living in the UK, it’s not often you hear those words – but the record high temperatures and dry conditions of this summer have made this week’s downpours welcome.

However, it’s too little, too late for growers. As we report this week, many are struggling with “real anxiety” over the impact on harvests. Bramley apples, cauliflowers and cabbages are thought to be particularly vulnerable to the drought conditions.

It’s just one of a raft of issues to hit the beleaguered growing sector. Costs are rising at a rate that makes grocery inflation – now at 12.7%, according to the ONS – look small by comparison. Labour shortages are persisting, despite the extension of the Seasonal Worker scheme. This week, it emerged more than £60m worth of fresh produce went to waste in the first half of 2022 – simply because no one was available to pick it.

This isn’t just a disaster for growers, but a disaster on a societal level too. The impact of the cost of living crisis is laid bare across this week’s issue – from Iceland’s zero-interest loans to help cover food costs to the rise in food waste apps offering surplus at a cut price (p26). The popularity of the latter is less to do with consumers looking to battle food waste, and more to do with households struggling to afford essentials.

At the same time, we hear food banks are struggling to get hold of enough food as a potential ‘winter of hunger’ looms. It makes the image of £60m worth of fresh produce rotting in the fields even less palatable.

Work is underway to tackle the labour shortages, at least. Former head of G’s Fresh Group John Shropshire is chairing Defra’s independent review, which will look at potential solutions. As a well-respected industry figure, he will no doubt offer informed, well thought-out recommendations (the question is whether the government will listen).

But as the NFU points out: we can’t just look at long-term interventions. The severity of the problem requires short-term, immediate action, like adding more key food sector roles to the shortage occupation list. Because no one wants to see another £60m worth of produce going to waste.