Energy and labour issues are the main issues affecting cucumber production in the UK, especially in the Lea Valley.
"Normally, growers would be planting cucumbers in the greenhouses in early January. This year the majority will not plant until late February or early March, some will wait until April," said Lee Stiles, Secretary of the Lea Valley Growers' Association. "The season will run until September."
Lee said the energy costs are too high to plant in January. "Last year growers were only using the boilers to heat the greenhouse every other day from May onwards to save on costs, but this meant less CO2 in the greenhouse, which led to a drop in yields."
Last year the cost of energy was between £6-8 per therm, this year, it is £1.70, and before the energy crisis, it was just £0.40 per therm. Half of the UK's growers didn't plant last year.
"10% of growers stopped growing last year, and the land is now proposed for housing or light industrial use. Since 1960, four or five growers stopped per year, and in 2021 and 2022, this number grew to ten per year.
"This has really impacted the area used to grow food and will seriously affect the country's food security. We are seeing more and more imports not only from Spain and Holland but increasingly from Turkey, Morocco, and Egypt. Produce coming from these countries takes a week by road.
"This situation is across the board in the UK fresh produce sector, it is not just energy and labour costs which have gone up, all inputs costs have increased, with very little increase in the returns from the retailers."
There has been an energy price cap imposed (£2.19 per therm) by the government, which started last October and will end in March, when it will be replaced by a 6% discount.
According to Lea, growers have never received any assistance from the government, and the policies on labour and costs must change, with more assistance being given to growers.