The UK’s supply chain problems are spreading deeper into the agriculture sector, putting at risk pumpkin distribution for Halloween and leaving tens of thousands of pigs in danger of being culled, according to Whitehall officials.
The extent of the fuel crisis, meanwhile, remained uncertain. Government insiders said internal data indicated the situation improved in some areas but industry figures suggested that overall there had been no improvement in the last 24 hours.
Driver and labour shortages mean pumpkin harvesting and distribution have been “severely disrupted” and many of the vegetables are rotting, officials said.
One grower, Lyburn Farm at the edge of the New Forest, told wholesale customers at the end of August that it would not be taking any more pumpkin orders because of bad weather delaying the crop, combined with labour problems.
“The crop is now looking good but slow to ripen due to a lack of sunshine and heat, as a result they are still looking very green,” the farm said. “Transport is clearly going to be another issue, as will the harvesting.”
But an insider at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) disputed there was disruption. “There are not pumpkin shortages.”
Officials working on supply chains also said “tens of thousands” of pigs were trapped on farms because of the shortage of truck drivers, as well as a lack of CO2, which is used to slaughter them.
Defra said: “We are keeping the market under close review and continuing to work closely with the sector to explore options to address the pressures industry is currently facing.”
Several abattoirs are offering to kill surplus animals at weekends for knockdown prices, then chop them into six pieces and sell them to China or the Philippines, Davies said, with thousands of pigs set to be slaughtered using this route.
So-called “six-cutting” does not require skilled butchery, unlike sales into UK retail stores, but such sales fetch very low prices as the Asian countries have plenty of homegrown pigs, Davies said. “It’s one of the only options to get rid of those pigs . . . but at bargain-basement prices,” she said.
Farmers said this was preferable to culling, for which they would be charged.
Despite continuing queues at petrol stations in many parts of the country, government officials indicated on Thursday they thought the fuel crisis appeared to be stabilising.
According to the Cabinet Office’s internal analysis, several regions were moved from red to amber: Yorkshire and Humber, the South West and Wales.
However, many areas, including London, the South East, East Anglia, the midlands and the North West, are still red, meaning they have less than 20 per cent of normal fuel supplies.
Wednesday’s demand for fuel was 103 per cent of normal, compared to more than 180 per cent for last Friday, the analysis concluded. “Deliveries are outstripping demand and the situation is stabilising,” one government insider said.
The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents the independent operators that make up about two-thirds of the UK’s 8,000 petrol stations, was more cautious.
Customer demand remained high it said, adding that 27 per cent of the sites it had surveyed on Thursday were still out of fuel, about the same number as the day before. That compared with 37 per cent on Tuesday, and an estimated 50 to 90 per cent on Sunday and Monday.
The government may still deploy military drivers. The first troops arrived for training on Thursday and could be deployed within 48 hours, those with knowledge of the situation said.
“We still haven’t given the go-ahead yet,” the person said.