Opinion: Hev yew gotta a leek boy? Why the UK vegetable shortage is no laughing matter
Happy St David’s Day,” a colleague kindly wished me on Wednesday.
“Oh, I’d forgotten,” I replied, somewhat shamefully, while feeling proudly Welsh and emotional all at the same time, and of course, instantly missing the mountains.
If it hadn’t been for deadlines, I would have immediately run to the market and grabbed a daffodil and a leek to wear in my coat, if I could get one, that is.
The national Leek Growers Association had been warning for some time that leeks are in short supply, and St David’s Day celebrations were in fact, in jeopardy. Which came as a double blow especially after Sir Robert Goodwill, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, had suggested this is what people nationwide could try, in light of the current shortage of vegetables.
That, or parsnips.
Environment Secretary Therese Coffey meanwhile suggested turnips could be a suitable alternative while many shops and supermarkets limit sales, or indeed even run out of more exotic veg such as tomatoes, peppers, cauliflowers and cucumbers.
Yes, we get the point: Home(UK)-grown, seasonal vegetables. But there is a large white elephant in the room here: British producers are struggling to afford to grow, anything
Our Suffolk News story this week tells how things really are. The region’s farmers have said the produce shortages are the result of issues including last summer’s drought, increasing energy and consumable prices, and poor market return on crops, especially from supermarkets.
One farm has reduced its irrigated crop area by nearly a third and another said it had refused to grow some crops where the risk was too high and market return too low.
The National Farmers’ Union said it had been warning about the impact of high energy costs, labour shortages and concerns about water availability in the region ‘for some time’.
The effects of this, compounded by supply issues from countries including Morocco and Spain, leading to the empty shelves in many supermarkets; though I’ve yet to hear of panic tomato buying yet.
Andrew Long, owner of Hall Farm, Fornham St Martin, said the current situation was a ‘storm’ caused by a number of factors, and it was’ fairly obvious [nationwide] there would be an issue going forward.
Elveden Estate said that for the first time in many years it would not be growing parsnips, while its potato and onion crops had each been reduced by 25 per cent.
What’s crystal clear, is that we need more government investment in British farming – and technology – to move to more sustainable methods of food production.
While we will always rely on imports to some extent for diversity, the current global volatility surely increases the pressure, and need, to support our producers to ensure domestic food supply chains remain stable.
Oh, and supermarkets need to play, and pay fair, too.