For almost a year now growers in the Lea Valley, UK, had to keep their greenhouses empty because growing vegetables simply doesn't add up anymore. Yet up until now, the consequences of the situation do not seem to have sunk in at the public, or at the government level. "The fact that you cannot turn on the production of food in an instant has come as news to some," says Lee Stiles.
The last of this seasons Lea Valley Tomatoes grown in Essex, England were still on the shelves well into November. How that will be next year, remains uncertain, says Lee Stiles. "Unfortunately the situation amongst 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 per therm until April 1st - however according to Lee this doesn't bring growers enough confidence to plant without knowing the prices they will receive. "A minority of growers may plant in Late January but this is just to secure enough labour for the whole season and they will do so at a loss."
Aside from the growers' personal situation and the developments within the industry, it also becomes clear that 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 how growers need to plan months ahead in order to produce food. "And it isn’t as easy as just switching to cheaper foreign imports anymore as we have seen with the fragile supply chain & global distributions to the energy market. When you only produce a quarter of your own energy or food the slightest disturbance overseas can have dramatic cost implications for British consumers, and also leave 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, the situation doesn't seem to be getting through, Lee notices. "It wasn’t long ago that we were issuing movement papers for essential food workers during lockdown, now we cannot get government to travel 20 miles to visit growers."