After this year’s floods and last year’s drought, British field vegetable growers need long-term commitment from buyers and consumers if they are to continue planting.
That was the message from Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers’ Association.
Mr Ward said: “The industry operates on very low margins and without some recognition that weather conditions vary from season-to-season and impact on production and production costs, they may not continue to invest in new crops and systems and instead may opt for crops involving less risk.”
Lincolnshire accounts for 65 per cent of the UK’s brassica area and, together with Yorkshire, it bore the brunt of the autumn flooding.
Not only has this made harvesting difficult and more costly, but has also affected crop protection activities for growing crops resulting in an increased disease risk for crops due for harvest later in winter and through to spring 2020.
Mr Ward said: “Even if it stops raining, soils are so saturated that it does not take much more rain for the flooding to return.”
Soil structures have suffered from the extreme conditions and this could affect planting plans for 2020.
The British Carrot Growers’ Association estimated at least half the UK crop was affected by heavy rain this year, with only Scotland and East Anglia escaping the worst of the deluge.
Nottinghamshire grower Mark Strawson said the season started well, but unprecedented rainfall from mid-September onwards caused severe problems.
Mr Strawson said: “This protracted wet period has not allowed growers to cover crops with straw which is vital to protect them from frost over winter.
“With such a small area protected to date and field conditions remaining poor, there is a very high risk of crop loss should the weather now turn cold. Such a situation would severely disrupt supplies to retail customers.”
UK plantings of vegetable crops were at the second lowest on record in 2019, according to Defra estimates, at just 94,400 hectares. That is nearly 30 per cent less than in the mid-1980s. Following the wet year of 2012, the vegetable area fell by 8 per cent, so 2020 could see the smallest planted area ever.