empty shelves bare food shortages

FILE PHOTO: Salad staples including cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes could soon be in short supply as farmers warn they are being paid too little to grow them.
Salad staples including cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes could soon be in short supply as farmers warn they are being paid too little to grow them.

A combination of soaring energy costs and a lack of people to pick crops continues to affect Britain's vegetable industry, with many retailers having to import from abroad.


Comment: They don't have to import from abroad, as a farmer recently highlighted over the egg 'shortage', there's currently sufficient produce, big business just refuses to pay for it when it can import it and make more profit.


Tomatoes in particular have been badly affected due to the rising cost of using heated greenhouses.

And the 'cucumber capital of Britain', Lea Valley - which stretches from Hertfordshire and Essex to north London and produced around 75 per cent of Britain's cucumbers and peppers in 2020 - could see production at half its 2020 level by next year.


Comment: Citizens will regret not doing more to support their producers when other countries ban imports to prioritise feeding their own people, and Brits are left with bare shelves.


The Lea Valley Growers Association's secretary Lee Stiles told the Times there will be shortages of British produce next year 'across the board', as 40 of the group's 80 members opted not to plant vegetables this year because of anticipated financial losses. Ten have left the business entirely, including all its remaining lettuce growers.

Mr Stiles added: 'Backing British growers by paying fair prices doesn't seem to be a priority for supermarkets.

'The amount of British fresh produce on the shelves from our growers has reduced by at least half this year already but consumers haven't noticed it, or don't care.'


Comment: Both, and because they don't realise the drastic implications that it could have.


He said cucumber farmers are losing up to 30p on every sale, making just 40p per vegetable while soaring energy costs means each one costs 70p to produce - more than they are sold for in some UK supermarkets.

Meanwhile, farmer Tony Montalbano, 40, from Essex, told the newspaper he only produced half of the four million baby cucumbers he normally grows because he had to cut back on heating and CO2.

He said: 'We are taking all the risks and for a really low price. If the price doesn't go up, the British cucumber industry will definitely not survive.'

Earlier this month a report by Promar International found that growers' production costs increased by as much as 27 per cent in the past year, with products including tomatoes, broccoli, apples and root vegetables most affected.

The main drivers of the increased costs were energy, which is up 165 per cent, fertiliser, which is up 40 per cent, and workforce costs, which are up 13 per cent.

Martin Emmett of the National Farmers' Union said: 'The viability of producing fruit and vegetables is under the greatest strain I've ever seen.

'A continued lack of a reliable workforce, both in permanent and seasonal roles, combined with sharply rising input costs, particularly for energy, has put many businesses on a knife edge.

'Producers of high energy crops in particular, such as top fruit, root vegetables and crops grown under glasshouses, have severe doubts about their business viability.

'Growers are doing everything they can to mitigate the impacts, but they cannot do it alone.

'If this pressure continues, it will be simply unsustainable for some businesses to continue as they are. In these unprecedented times, stability and confidence are critical.'

He said the Government needs to lift the cap on the seasonal worker scheme and increase the number of visas available in order to 'safeguard the future of British fruit and vegetables'.

Jeremy Clarkson, who since 2019 has run a farm in Oxfordshire, said this week that people 'do not pay enough for their food', despite families across the country having to choose between heating and eating this winter amid a cost-of-living crisis.


Comment: A number of studies have shown that British people spend a smaller portion of their salary as to the rest of Europe, and in turn Britain is also at the top in rates of obesity.


Meanwhile, customers have been warned that egg shortages could continue into next summer as M&S and Morrisons joined Tesco, Asda and Lidl this week in rationing the sale of boxes in their stores.

Earlier this month an industry body warned rationing would continue into the new year, as farmers deal with bird flu, inflation and soaring energy costs.


Comment: As with vegetables, it's largely due to supermarkets refusing to pay farmers for the increased cost of production: Farmers warn shortages will worsen


Now the National Farmers' Union has warned the egg shortages on supermarket shelves could last until well into next summer unless supply chain issues are solved.

Retailers have blamed avian flu for the supply problems but British farmers said they have scaled back production because the price paid by shops failed to cover the cost of feed and rising energy bills.

Mick Thompson told the Daily Mail this week that he got rid of his 8,000 free-range hens from his North Devon farm as he was operating at a loss.

He criticised supermarkets for raising their prices while not passing that increase on to farmers.

While some shops have introduced rationing, Sainsbury's has started to import eggs from Italy, and some outlets are looking to source from Poland and Spain.

Robert Gooch, chief executive of the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) said: 'We warned the retail sector eight months ago that it was creating a crisis — and it is now happening, with at least one supermarket having to bring in eggs from Italy because it can't source British.

'My members feel ignored and let down. It is no wonder that a third of free-range egg farmers have reduced their flock size, paused production temporarily, or quit altogether.

'We warned in March that eggs could be in short supply by Christmas. This should be a wake-up call to the supply chain. We need to see farmers paid a sustainable price to restore confidence and optimism to the sector.'