There is a risk of food shortages in the UK this winter, experts say, as drought and high gas prices put pressure on farmers.
While growers using greenhouses either do not sow or wait until spring when there are more daylight hours, crops that would normally have sustained the country during fallow periods, such as cabbages, carrots and potatoes, are likely to have reduced yields due to drought, the Guardian understands.
Although there has been recent rainfall across the UK, which has been heavy at times, this has not been enough to replenish the levels of rivers, reservoirs and groundwater, which have been depleted during the record drought. Farmers were hoping for weeks of steady rain to soften the ground for borer crops, but that didn’t happen.
Things are not likely to improve during the crucial sowing periods in September, according to forecasts by the UK Center for Ecology and Hydrology. Almost all river flows, apart from some in the north-west, Scotland and Northern Ireland, are forecast to be at low or extremely low levels for the month, and the long-term forecast does not suggest it will be the very wet month needed for crops.
“The fruit and vegetable sector is undoubtedly in crisis,” said Rob Percival, head of food policy at the Soil Association. “Many growers have experienced a 20% reduction in crop production this year and most growers expect further reductions next year. Without immediate and concerted action from the government, we can expect to see growing businesses collapse and shortages on supermarket shelves.”
Charities have called for more support for growers. Ben Reynolds, deputy chief executive of Sustain, said: “Growers are facing an impossible situation that is beyond their control. As recent droughts and the effects of the climate crisis make development more difficult [reliably]employee issues and energy costs going through the roof, there is a very real possibility of empty shelves in the coming months.
“Some producers will go out of business, countering the government’s aims to be more self-sufficient and this will affect the health of the country if people do not have access to affordable healthy food.
“The government may think that trade deals are the answer if their plan is to let the British farming industry decline and import more produce, but these problems are global and leaving it to the free market may in practice to mean a very empty market. They need to step in and find a way to reduce energy costs for food businesses and expand renewable energy capacity.”
The Soil Association, which certifies organic food, is calling for more sustainable farming practices to be adopted by farmers and supported by the government to mitigate future drought.
Percival said: “The Government needs to implement a comprehensive horticulture strategy which prioritizes agro-ecological farming. This year’s drought has led to reduced quality and yield, and such effects can only be mitigated if the right incentives are in place to support farming techniques that build soil health and organic matter.
“Healthier soils can provide resilience to geopolitical and climate shocks, and we can expect more severe shocks in the future,” he added.
A spokesman for the National Farmers Union said: “Growers have certainly faced challenges due to the continued dry weather and overall lack of rainfall this year. Soil conditions as a result of this will be a challenge for growers looking to sow and harvest crops in the coming weeks.
“In terms of energy, there are ongoing concerns among growers, particularly those that are more energy-intensive, such as those grown under glass, about rising energy costs.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been contacted for comment.