The hot weather created by the Charon anticyclone that has moved into Europe from Africa has prompted serious concerns over the quality and size of harvests this year, including olives, cereal and tomatoes.
Olive oil category leader Filippo Berio has warned there was already a “chronic shortage of extra virgin olive oil with no prospect of new season oil until at least November”.
A spokeswoman for the brand said the industry was “under intense pressure”, made worse by the heat.
“As we saw last year, in extreme drought the olive tree will drop its fruit to preserve moisture,” she added. “As the current heatwave shows no signs of abating, clearly there is a risk of this happening again, which will be nothing short of catastrophic for the olive oil industry.”
Warnings were echoed by Napolina owner Princes, which said “existing inflationary pressures across the olive oil market have been exacerbated by issues such as the dry weather last summer and recent heatwave across Europe, which is expected to reduce EU production of olive oil to below the five-year average this season”.
“These challenges are driving continued price rises, affecting brands such as Napolina – and while consumption has dropped, demand remains strong in relation to the reduced supply,” she added.
Cereal production in southern Europe is expected to fall by up to 60% on last year, with 2023 harvest set to be its lowest since 2007 – at 256 million tonnes, some 9.5% lower than the five-year average of 283 million tonnes, European farming organisation Copa Cogeca said last week.
Crop quality likely to be negatively affected
Harvests in Portugal, Spain and Italy, where temperatures have regularly topped 40°C in July, are expected to be hardest hit by the heatwave.
Copa Cogeca said quality was also likely to be negatively affected due to the extreme weather conditions seen across the continent.
It is the latest climate issue to hit cereal production in 2023, following a damp start to the year that led to significant flooding, the body added.
“With not much to sell and [with their crop] at a low price with very high input costs, EU crops farmers will face a very difficult situation this year,” a spokeswoman said. “And more importantly, they risk not being able to ensure a decent harvest next year, which will be necessary to keep afloat after this year’s dramatic situation.”
There are also likely to be issues in the livestock sector due to the tighter cereal supply, which could potentially drive shortages of animal feed, she added.
While its hub in Kent had refrigeration, the border control post at Sevington “does not currently offer this service which is so essential during these challenging high temperatures,” Parr said. “This would suggest that the cold chain could break down for goods using this border facility.”
2023 tomato volumes are unlikely to be reached
But the impact of the heatwave on fruit & veg is currently less clear, with Mintec fruit & veg analyst Harry Campbell pointing out crops were in different development stages.
“It is expected by some market sources that areas where tomatoes are flowering will be impacted more and irrigation for developing crop will be required,” he said.
Campbell added that heavy rainfall at the start of the season had exacerbated the difficult conditions and delayed plantings in northern Italy, which was expected to cause harvest delays.
“The World Processing Tomato Council left production in the hemisphere largely unchanged from the June forecast of 42.5 million tonnes,” he said.
However, many market sources now believe tomato volume forecasts for 2023 are “unlikely to be reached” due to the heatwave, late plantings and drought earlier in the year, he warned.
His comments were echoed by Walter Zanre, CEO of Filippo Berio UK, who who said tomatoes for the processing industry had already been hit by floods, with the northern Italian crop volumes already down by 15% and prone to further losses to the extreme heat resulting in scorched fruits.
This article was first published by thegrocer.co.uk on 20 July and updated on 27 July.