© Andrew Paterson/AlamyFILE PHOTO: A ruined crop of potatoes. Experts say supermarkets may have to rely on imports from as far afield as Egypt, pushing up environmental impact.
UK farmers are struggling with one of the lowest potato harvests on record after an autumn of heavy rain, raising fears about supplies for this year's Christmas dinners.

Experts are warning that supermarkets could be forced to turn to imports from as far afield as Egypt to fill potential gaps on shelves, pushing up the environmental impact of the festive meal.

Comment: The Guardian journalists are worried about the (relatively inconsequential) Co2 emissions - as world leaders fly to the UAE in their private jets for the COP28 climate summit - meanwhile, as inflation continues to push up prices, tens of millions of people in the West worry about how they're going to be able to afford the Christmas celebrations.

Fred Searle, the magazine editor of the Fresh Produce Journal, said potato planting had reduced significantly and the sector was "looking at the lowest UK crop on record this season", with an estimate that about "4.1m tonnes of potatoes would be harvested, 2m less than five or six years ago".

As well as the recent rain, Searle blamed the smaller harvest on businesses "dropping out of the sector due to cost pressures" exacerbated by years of erratic weather.

Comment: Largely because the government is allowing supermarkets to underpay producers: UK suffering another egg shortage, cost jumps 30%, low supplies could last months as producers exit market

"One producer said that in the last six years, there have been extreme weather events that have affected potato production," Searle added. "If you cannot deliver a crop, then you cannot get the full returns on it."

Comment: The increasingly erratic seasons and spike in extreme weather events is impacting not just potatoes: Olive oil thefts on the rise in Spain due to record low harvest, and soaring prices 'keep rising'

This week a report from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit thinktank blamed the global climate emergency for helping to drive British households' food bills up by more than £600 over the past two years.

Comment: Except that it's not just food costs, because prices for everything are soaring, and in large part due to lockdown-related inflation and the self-inflicted energy crisis.

Searle said climate change was an important issue affecting domestic vegetable production and leading to more imported goods.

Comment: Searle seems to conveniently forget the coordinated attack on farmers by governments in the West: Irish farmers revolt over gov'ts 'green' plan to cull 195,000 cattle, 'retirement scheme' offered to willing farmers

Searle said the poor UK potato crop could lead to "some gaps on shelves and generally tighter supply because of wet weather ... I cannot say there will be no potatoes but there might be more imports to make up for the shortfall."

It is rare for the UK to import potatoes, but if shortages drive up prices then suppliers are likely to look to Israel and Egypt for produce.

The jump in farmers' costs - particularly the higher price of fertiliser, driven by the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis, and higher labour bills - has also led to fewer being "planted to begin with", he said.

Comment: The West chose to sanction one of the world's main producers of fertilizer: Russia.

Crops of broccoli and cauliflower, which feature on many Christmas dinner tables, have also been hit by the poor weather.

"When the weather is wet it is not possible to harvest potatoes, or brassicas such as cauliflower and broccoli," Searle said. "Some of the main broccoli producers in the UK have said there will be a shortage at Christmas." Any brassica imports tend to come from Spain and France.

However, the picture looks a little better for other festive root veg this December. Guy Poskitt, who farms carrots and parsnips in East Yorkshire, said a lot of their vegetables had gone rotten from the rain but any shortages were likely to hit next year in the spring.

"I am not sure if it will impact supply; it will tighten supply - there is no doubt about that. A lot depends on the frost in the next few weeks," Poskitt added.

Comment: An ominous statement, because amidst the propaganda media's cries of 'global warming', 'the climate crisis', 'global boiling', Europe is reporting record cold events, and snow cover:

Poskitt said challenges with growing were becoming more normal because of the "extremes of weather" we now face. He said: "As an industry we have to learn to manage that, and the only real way to do that is to grow plenty, which means customers should pay for growing extra to make sure more is available."

Martin Emmett, of the National Farmers' Union, said: "The recent poor weather, flooding and heavy rain have made harvesting some crops, such as potatoes, a particular challenge as some land became waterlogged or flooded.

"We have no expectations of shortages currently but it remains important that we make the best of what's available, with supermarkets offering flexibility to growers when it comes to crop specification."