Farmers warn of British leek shortage ahead of St David's Day

The leek as a national symbol of Wales is believed to go back to the times of druids, centuries before the Romans invaded Britain. Credit: PA Images

Farmers have warned there could be a shortage of British leeks, partly due to coronavirus, as people in Wales get ready to mark St David's Day.

The UK's supply of the vegetable is said to have almost run out due to a 15% surge in demand as more people cook at home during the pandemic. Last spring's cold weather, which led to smaller crops, is also said to be partly to blame.

One farmer in Pembrokeshire said their supply of leeks ran out around two weeks ago.

The British Leek Growers' Association said suppliers are having to import more expensive leeks from places like the Netherlands in order to "fill the void" and meet demand in time for St David's Day.

The leek is one of Wales' national symbols and is often used in traditional Welsh recipes like cawl.

St David's Day is celebrated on March 1 every year and honours the patron saint of Wales. Credit: PA Images

Nic Joseph, owner of a business in Penally, Pembrokeshire, which delivers boxes of its own produce to customers, said his leek crops ran out around two weeks ago.

He said: "We are selling some wholesale leeks to a couple of people but not with the box scheme.

"I'd be quite sad if people couldn't buy Welsh produce in Welsh supermarkets if they were looking for stuff for St David's Day."

Chairman of the British Leek Growers' Association, Stewart Aspinall, said "unexpected growth in demand" because more people are at home, paired with a harsh spring in 2020 (which affected seed populations) means there is a "shortfall, with supply ending earlier than normal."

"There should be leeks on the shelves," he said.

"But if people want to keep eating them they might not be able to find British ones.

"And it's at a time when the vast majority of the population are looking to buy more locally sourced produce rather than international ones with a higher carbon footprint."

Wales supporters sometimes incorporate leeks into their match day attire. Credit: PA Images

Another leek grower said some of those who supply the vegetable to supermarkets are having to look as far as Turkey and Spain, to make sure their orders are fulfilled.

Tim Casey, who grows leeks for his own business in Lincolnshire, said he and other growers' crops are down 20% from previous years, while orders are between 10% and 20% up.

Mr Casey said: "It's not so bad bringing them from Belgium, Holland perhaps, which would be a couple of days on a lorry and of course now you've probably got a day at Dover.

"But from Turkey you've got two or three days over land before you even get to the Channel, so the freshness definitely won't be there. You can justifiably say British has better quality and better freshness, and is more sustainable."

The usual St David's Day parades and celebratory gatherings cannot take place this year, because of the pandemic. Credit: PA Images

However David Petersen, chairman of the National St David's Day Parade, said there are alternatives out there for people who cannot get their hands on their leek of choice.

Mr Petersen, whose parade will not be able to march through Cardiff city centre on March 1 for the first time in 20 years due to Covid-19 restrictions, said: "St David was renowned for eating just bread and water only.

"So we are encouraging people to have a St David's Day lunch of bread and water, and donate the cost difference between that and what they would normally eat to the Marie Curie cancer charity."

The leek as a national symbol of Wales is believed to go back to the times of druids, centuries before the Romans invaded Britain.