It has come as no surprise to British leek growers that yields are down this year with a cold wet start to the year and a long hot, dry summer. Just how much volumes are down by is hard to quantify as rises in retail prices has dampened demand slightly according to Tim Casey, Chairman of the British Leek Growers Association.
“Yields are certainly down, and sizes are smaller than average, but retailers have increased prices so demand has been less, which is a sensible thing to do. The UK can have a 12 month supply of leeks, harvesting starts in June/July and we can still be harvesting in May. I don’t think we will see a situation where there are no leeks to be found anywhere, but there may be the odd day when some shelves are empty.”
“The leeks are noticeably smaller, normally you would have 2-3 leeks in a 500g pack, this year we have seen 3-4, sometimes 5-6 in the 500g pack and this will be even more common after Christmas when supply will get really tight.”
The extreme weather in the spring lead to late planting and the hot dry summer conditions caused the leeks to shut down and stop growing, but the mild autumn has actually increased growth. Farmers who thought their crop would be unharvestable are at least getting sizes which can be harvested, although there are still some areas with big crop losses.
Normally leeks would be imported from Holland, Belgium and sometimes Spain but Europe also experienced the weather extremes, so the volumes are not available from there either.
Supermarkets have been sympathetic to the growers by looking at the specifications and raising the retail as well as the supply prices, but after Christmas growers will still have to meet the harvesting and packing costs, exaggerated by the small leeks, with little yield to pay for them.
“The situation is not tenable, margins are just so thin that there is nothing left to compensate in a bad year like this. There is not much more the supermarkets can do on specification, they will have to look at prices.”
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