For almost a year now growers in the Lea Valley, UK, had to keep their greenhouses empty because growing vegetables is simply not feasible anymore. Yet up until now, the public and the government have hardly been aware of the consequences of this situation. "The fact that you cannot turn on production of food in an instant has come as news to some", says Lee Stiles.
Lea Valley tomatoes grown in Essex, England were still on the shelves in November. How that will be next year, remains uncertain, says Lee Stiles. "Unfortunately the situation for Lea Valley Growers remains serious. Many growers have still not received agreeable prices from the supermarkets for next year. This means that they cannot plan for January plantings and if they do plant it will be in late February to March if at all."
It's the combination of high energy prices, a lack of workers available, and uncertainty about the prices, resulting in growers leaving their greenhouses empty. It's not just the fresh produce growers having to deal with this situation. The effects bear on the poultry sector as well, resulting in a shortage of eggs in supermarkets currently.
Dear Sainsburys…..if you need a top up I know a man…… pic.twitter.com/ev7HzZfG4r— nick matthews (@totalbristol) December 5, 2022
The UK government has installed a price cap of £2.19 until April 1st. However, according to Lee, this doesn't give growers enough confidence to plant without knowing what prices they'll get. "A minority of growers may plant in late January but this is just to secure enough labor for the whole season and they will do so at a loss."
Aside from the growers' situation and the developments within the industry, it also becomes clear how consumers can hardly relate to growers and the work they do, Lee concludes. "Last week, the media were in shock that growers are deciding not to grow food in Britain. The fact that you cannot turn on production of food in an instant has come as news to some." It seems consumers hardly have any idea that growers need to plan months ahead to produce food. "This time, an easy solution such as just resorting to cheaper imported products doesn't work anymore, as the supply chain & global distributions turned out to be weaker than expected. On top of that, the energy market is making everything more expensive. If that wasn't enough, the quality of imported products is going down. When you only produce a quarter of your energy or food, the slightest disturbance overseas can not only have dramatic cost implications for British consumers, but it can also make a country vulnerable to those who would weaponize food & energy security."
Today, an emergency press conference will be held. Ahead of that, the National Farmers Union warned the current egg shortages "could just be the start" as multiple farming sectors were impacted. "I fear the country is sleepwalking into further food supply crises, with the future of British fruit and vegetable supplies in trouble," president Minette Batters said to the BBC.
And still, to the government and the public, awareness about this situation seems to be lacking. "It wasn’t long ago that we were issuing movement papers for essential food workers during the lockdown, now we cannot get the government to travel 20 miles to visit growers."