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Vegetable shortage looms as Europe battles heatwave

Lack of water and shipping chaos mean shoppers will have less choice.

Britain is on the brink of a vegetable shortage as crops are ravaged by the summer heatwave and the chaos at Dover makes importing supplies from Europe more difficult.


Shoppers will be confronted by fewer vegetables on the shelves after the drought conditions and record-breaking temperatures ruined production, farmers have warned.


Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers Association, said Britain “could be in a major deficit position”, where domestic supplies cannot meet demand.


He said: “The temperatures we are seeing here are being replicated around Europe so European production sites are facing similar challenges. This could lead to less product and less choice.”


Extreme heat and strained water supplies stunt the growth of many vegetables, reducing the size and quality of the crop. Retailers could normally find alternative sources in Europe but its farmers also faced a brutal heatwave and delays at Britain’s ports threaten to reduce supply from the Continent.


Thirsty crops such as onions, potatoes, carrots and lettuces are likely to be affected badly.


Mr Ward said: “At this late stage of the season, finding growers with surplus production may not be that simple – plus the cost of transport has escalated in the past few months even if you can get hold of it.


“Many European freight operators are less than keen on coming to the UK due to the problems at Dover and the extra waiting time as a result of the additional checks.”


He added that crops being planted now for consumption in the winter are being badly affected by a lack of rain, which is forcing water companies to impose hosepipe banks across the UK.


The price of food is soaring as the war in Ukraine hits supplies from the “breadbasket of Europe” and farmers face a jump in costs, particularly in fuel, fertiliser and animal feed.


Food prices rose by 10pc in the 12 months to June, the fastest increase since 2009, and the heatwave is expected to drive grocery bills higher still.


Vegetable prices were up 9pc, with milk, cheese and butter also soaring as dairy farmers pass on higher costs.


English farmers have faced the driest first half of any year since 1976, followed by record temperatures in July that exceeded 40 degrees for the first time on record.


Tom Bradshaw, deputy president at the National Farmers’ Union, said last month: “Your onions, your potatoes, your carrots, your lettuce that require irrigation to grow, many of those farms have been using irrigation for several months now and will be getting to a situation where it is running very, very low and there will be some that are running out imminently.


“They won't be able to produce the quality of crop that they were looking for so the size of the crop could well be reduced.”


There were chaotic scenes and hours-long queues at the port of Dover last month, causing significant delays for travellers.


Food producers, such as those in the salmon industry, have complained that delays at the port are causing loss of sales.


Supplies into the UK are also expected to be disrupted by dockers at Felixstowe, the country’s biggest container port, going on an eight-day strike.


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