Food supply shortages set to last long-term predicts farmer
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Shops were forced to introduce rationing on Tuesday as a fruit and vegetable shortage left shelves bare. One grocery expert warned: “Disruption is expected to last a few weeks.”
Asda said: “Like other supermarkets, we are experiencing sourcing challenges on some products. We have introduced a temporary limit of three of each product on a very small number of fruit and vegetable lines, so customers can pick up the products they are looking for.”
Other supermarkets are monitoring their own supply chains: Marks & Spencer said it was not immune from the issues but was sourcing stock from alternative markets.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium which represents supermarkets, said: “Difficult weather conditions in the south of Europe and northern Africa have disrupted harvest for some fruit and vegetables.
While disruption is expected to last a few weeks, supermarkets are adept at managing supply chain issues and are working with farmers to ensure that customers are able to access a wide range of fresh produce.”
Shoppers across the UK shared their frustrations on social media after trekking from store to store only to discover certain fresh foodstuffs were out of stock.
Tomatoes and iceberg lettuce proved particularly hard to find.
Hilary Paterson-Jones had to try four supermarkets in Holyhead, Anglesey to finish her weekly shop.
She said: “There was hardly any fresh produce in Tesco. In Morrisons, I asked a young staff member what was going on and he said there was nothing in the back.
“It was the same in Aldi and Lidl. Shortages have been getting worse in recent months but I was shocked to see so many empty shelves at 10am. Prices are going through the roof – but a lack of basic foodstuffs is unacceptable.”
Growers and suppliers in Morocco have faced cold snaps, heavy rain, flooding and ferry cancellations for weeks – affecting the volume of fruit reaching Britain.
Production problems in Morocco began in January with unusually cold night-time temperatures that affected tomato ripening.
Crops from Spain, our other main winter food source, have also been affected by bad weather.
Supermarket buyers in Europe are reported to be scrambling to secure enough produce for their customers, driving up prices and reducing stocks.
Also, British and Dutch farmers cut back on using greenhouses in winter due to high electricity bills.
But UK producers are beginning to move into their growing season and that should calm the situation in the longer term.
Nigel Jenney, chief executive of the Fresh Produce Consortium which represents around 700 firms, said costs of fuel, energy, packaging and distribution were also having an impact.
The UK seems to be bearing the brunt of the shortages, with few empty shelves in other European countries.
Industry sources suggested Britain may be suffering because of lower domestic production and more complex supply chains, as well as a price-sensitive market.
They claimed Brexit was not a factor since the main impact of new border procedures for fruit and vegetable imports will not be felt until next January.
Imports from non-EU Morocco are already checked at borders.
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “Everybody wants to avoid rationing but I think there are going to be challenges on availability of some food items. The last thing anybody wants to do is to create a level of panic buying.”
Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers’ Association, warned the UK was in for a “difficult year” as farmers were now opting to plant more-profitable wheat rather than vegetables.
He added: “Growers simply aren’t going to put crops in the ground if they can’t see a viable return from them.
“At the moment the rate of inflation for fresh produce is significantly below the general rate of inflation for food.
“Supermarkets are just not prepared to pass on the costs and there isn’t enough money to provide the sorts of returns everybody needs to keep going.”
Wholesale experts Nationwide Produce said the spot cost of many vegetables had doubled and even trebled compared with their usual price tag at this time of year.
Tim O’Malley, managing director, told The Grocer trade magazine: “In the 40 years I’ve been in this trade, I’ve never seen such high prices across such a broad range of products for such a prolonged period of time.”
The UK usually grows 450,000 tonnes of onions a year but this has fallen to 350,000. The rest will have to be imported from as far as South Africa, Chile, New Zealand and Tasmania.
Mr O’Malley said: “As an industry, we have suffered massive deflation, year on year on year on year.
“The British consumer is going to have to start paying a realistic price for fruit and veg, otherwise UK growers will continue to pull out of growing fresh produce which simply means less homegrown fruit and veg, and more imports.
The risk to reward factor is just getting ridiculous with a lot of growers pulling out of growing veg.
“We’re now seeing thousands of hectares per year being converted into growing crops other than veg, mainly cereals.”
Farmers to receive boost
Farmers “undermined” by food imports are to receive £168million to increase produce grown on UK soil this year, a minister has announced.
The grants will fund equipment and automation, plus upgrades for small abattoirs that are “key to the food supply chain”, said farming minister Mark Spencer.
At the National Farmers’ Union conference, he said: “The role farmers play in putting food on tables as well as looking after our countryside is crucial.
“We know sustainable food production depends on a healthy environment. The two go hand in hand.
“Helping farms invest in new technology as well as bringing in nature-friendly schemes will support the future of farming.”
Tanya Steele, Chief Executive of the World Wildlife Fund, welcomed the news, saying: “We wholeheartedly support moves to stop farmers being undermined by imports of food produced to lower standards – and to put public money behind healthy, more sustainable food.”
Mr Spencer said the money – from the Farming Innovation Programme and the Farming Investment Fund – will sit alongside environmental land management schemes, which reward farmers for improving biodiversity on their land.
But NFU President Minette Batters emphasised that farmers are still facing labour shortages, cripplingly high costs and the impacts of climate change and global political turmoil.
Agricultural costs have leapt by almost 50 percent since 2019.
The poultry industry, clobbered by the largest recorded bird flu outbreak, has hit its lowest level of egg production in nine years.
Ms Batters said: “There are three cornerstones on which a prosperous farming sector must be built: boosting productivity, protecting the environment and managing volatility.
“But the clock is ticking for the Government to start putting meaningful, tangible and effective meat on the bones of commitments it made.”
At the Birmingham conference on Wednesday, Environment Secretary Therese Coffey will say: “Let me be clear – keeping the country fed is what farming is for.
“Our shared mission must be to reach net zero and strengthen the resilience of our environment – so that in turn, we strengthen the resilience of our businesses and communities.”
The major supermarkets are dealing with the shortages as follows:
Asda has introduced a customer limit of three each on tomatoes, peppers cucumbers lettuce, salad bags, broccoli cauliflower and raspberries
Morrisons is to introduce a maximum cap of two items per customers across tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and peppers from Wednesday.
Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Aldi, Lidl, Marks&Spencer
No plans to ration fruit and vegetables present.
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