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Some vegetable growers warn of possible shortages in new year

An English leek crop. (The Leek Growers Association/PA)

Some vegetable growers are warning of possible shortages in the new year after this year’s series of extreme weather conditions led to low yields.

Growers of carrots, brassicas, onions, parsnips, potatoes and leeks have reported a drop in the size of the vegetables and yields after a year that has seen delays to planting because of freezing temperatures and an exceptionally wet April and a scorching summer that halted growing at best.

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Leek Growers Association chairman Tim Casey said some growers were already reducing deliveries to customers in an attempt to give crops longer in the field, but growth was so slow that yields had reduced by 23%.

He said: “Leek growing and harvesting has never been easy, but we have never seen a year like this one, our leek crops have really struggled.

“Crops have not grown to size before the onset of winter, so customers should expect smaller and more variable leeks this winter. Smaller leeks and lower volumes are likely to result in shortages in the New Year.”

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He said normally the UK would expect to import a proportion of its leeks to make up for shortfalls, but similar conditions across Europe meant this was not an option this year.

A Lincolnshire parsnip grower, who declined to be named, said the extreme summer heat caused six weeks of growing time to be lost on the back of the wet spring that forced the delay of planting to May and the beginning of June instead of the usual April.

He said: “It’s not going to be the big yields of past years. The parsnips are going to be small, and the yields will be smaller.

“Everybody tries to play it down but there will be a shortage after Christmas. Most packers are trying to save the best for the lead-up to Christmas.”

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Rob Clayton, strategy director at Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) Potatoes, said early indications suggested that yields would be down between 10% and 20% this year.

He said consumers were likely to see smaller potatoes that cost a “few pence” more, but added: “We’re not going to see empty shelves, but what’s on those shelves might look a little different.

“The season started with sub-zero temperatures brought by the ‘Beast from the East’ followed by a wet spring that delayed planting. Since then we’ve seen one of the driest combined June and July periods on record, so most growers are reporting that yields will be down.”

British Growers Association chief executive Jack Ward said low yields were the result of a series of exceptional weather conditions, starting with the cold spells in February and March, an exceptionally wet April and a period from May to the end of August of no rain.

He said: “It’s absolutely the antithesis of what a plant needs to grow properly.”

Mr Ward said the industry was looking at an overall drop in yields of about 20%, although the “jury is out” on Brussels sprouts because they were planted at the end of July or early July and the crop was still growing.

However, in some good news, British pumpkin growers for Tesco have reported a bumper harvest after the hot summer meant less waste in the field, resulting in a better quality crop.

The retailer is predicting sales of two million pumpkins this Halloween, a 5.4%  increase on last year.