How is the heat impacting crops?

Unyielding weather for European fruit and vegetable growers

Wrinkled tomato skins, curly cucumbers and small plums – these are some of the effects of drought on fruit and vegetables in Northern Europe. Exactly how great is the impact of heat and water shortages on crops, yields and growers in the region?

Hot and dry weather affects field crop farming the most, says Cindy van Rijswick, RaboResearch Fruit and Vegetable Analyst. “Yields are lower, but fruits and vegetables are also smaller in size and sometimes have quality issues. Because of the high temperatures or lack of water, growers have smaller plums, wrinkled tomatoes, and more misshapen cucumbers. In the coming months, the harvest of apples, pears and potatoes may potentially be smaller in size and yield too.”

Lower yield or quality issues connected to drought will be an issue for farmers who grow fruits and vegetables to be canned, jarred and frozen. “Growers who supply produce to processors may be unable to fulfil contract obligations. Hopefully reasonable solutions can be reached. But smaller yields will definitely be a big setback for food processors as well,” says Van Rijswick.

How we eat during the heat
Hot weather can also affect how people eat. Summer time is salad time – which is usually a boon to vegetable growers. But more extreme heat can create a mixed bag of consumer trends.

“During exceptionally hot weather, consumers eat more salad and raw vegetables like cucumbers and tomatoes. But people often prepare hot food less and eat fewer cooked vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli. Some growers will likely be hit by even lower demand because of the change in hot summer eating habits,” says Van Rijswick.

Consumer rescue trends
In the past few weeks, consumers have shown a willingness to rescue unwanted crops of tiny plums or wrinkled cherry tomatoes from growers in the Netherlands. But can consumers expect to pay more if their food is smaller or less readily available?

Van Rijswick: “It’s not yet clear if the extra costs will be passed on to consumers or seen down the road in the price of canned and frozen vegetables. Growers usually take the hit instead of the supermarket or consumers when it comes to climate-related damage from drought, hail, floods or wind.”
 

Small plums for sale by the box in the Netherlands

Damage, disruptions and oversupply
Too much sun can also cause disruptions in the market because of an abundance of produce or inconsistent supply. “Extended warm temperatures have caused some products to grow too fast and markets are oversupplied. Later in the season, there could be a shortage of those same products because yields came too early. The impact on the grower and the grower’s prices are often negative.”

“If the drought continues, some permanent crops like fruit trees could have longer-term damage, but this is not yet known. It will be more clear in the next growing season,” says Van Rijswick.

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