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Union Warns Fruit and Veg Shortages 'Just the Beginning'

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) has warned that the current shortages of certain fruits and vegetables in UK supermarkets could signal a much larger issue. NFU deputy president Tom Bradshaw says the UK's reliance on imports has left the nation vulnerable to "shock weather events".

He added that soaring energy bills, worsened by the war in Ukraine, have deterred some UK vegetable growers from planting crops.

Bradshaw believes the UK has now "hit a tipping point" and must "take command of the food we produce" amidst the global instability caused by the war in Europe and climate change.

The tomato shortage in UK supermarkets has expanded to include other fruits and vegetables. This is due to a combination of poor weather and transportation problems in Africa and Europe.

"We've been warning about this moment for the past year," Mr. Bradshaw told Times Radio on Saturday. "The tragic events in Ukraine have driven inflation, particularly energy inflation, to unprecedented levels."

"Growers lack the confidence they'll see returns that justify planting their greenhouses. As it stands, we have many greenhouses that would be growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and aubergines sitting empty because they simply couldn't take the risk.

"We'd always have some imports, but our complete reliance on them now means shock weather events in Morocco and Spain have led to these shortages. It’s really interesting that before Brexit we didn’t used to source anything, or very little, from Morocco. We've been forced to go further afield, and now these more frequent climatic shocks have a real impact on the food available on our shelves today."

Tesco, Aldi, Asda, and Morrisons have all introduced customer limits on certain fresh produce as shortages leave supermarket shelves bare. Supermarkets are limiting customers to three units of tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, while Asda is also limiting purchases of lettuce, salad bags, broccoli, cauliflower, and raspberries. Morrisons is limiting customers to two items across their tomato, cucumber, lettuce, and pepper ranges.

Retailers believe supplies will improve in the coming days or weeks and that the problems stem from poor yields across the continent and north Africa.

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey suggested that British consumers should eat more turnips instead of imported food, sparking some debate.

Growers have also warned that British-grown leek supplies will run out by April due to the "most difficult season ever," caused by high temperatures, drought, and a subsequent cold snap.

Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers Association (BGA), states that supermarkets could also experience shortages of carrots, cabbage, and cauliflower within weeks.

The BGA highlights that the future of British apple and pear-growing is "on a knife edge". A BGA survey of British Apples & Pears Limited (BAPL) members found that a third of the planned 480,000 orders for new apple and pear trees have been cancelled this season.

BAPL executive chair Ali Capper states, "The key reason for the lack of investment is supermarket returns that are unsustainable."


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