Unpredictable Weather Impacts on Food Prices

flooded famrland

A number of the UK’s leading supermarkets are facing shortages of certain fruits and vegetables following a summer of terrible growing conditions. Later harvests have left retailers under stocked and many have been forced to change their buying policies, accepting produce they would previously have rejected, in order to try and maintain competitive prices.

The driest March in almost 60 years was followed by an exceptionally wet summer featuring intense storms and flooding. The result was a 25% reduction in harvests of British fruit and vegetables and a higher proportion of “ugly” produce.

Asda released a statement saying:

We are working hard with our growers to give them long-term sustainability. Where crops have been badly affected by the weather, we have flexed our specifications to help British growers get as much of their produce into our stores as possible. Keeping prices low for our shoppers is as important now as it has ever been, and that will remain our commitment.

Meanwhile, Waitrose put out a similar message with a spokesperson saying:

We are working closely with all our growers to help them manage their costs and get as much of their crop on our shelves as possible through initiatives such as selling cosmetically imperfect but good quality fruit and veg.

This follows the announcement made at the end of September by Sainsbury’s that the store would ‘radically change’ its approach to buying British produce. Director of food Judith Batchelar, said:

The unpredictable weather this season, has left growers with bumper crops of ugly-looking fruit and vegetables with reported increases in blemishes and scarring, as well as shortages due to later crops. We’ve committed to make use of all fruit and veg that meets regulation and stands up on taste, and hope customers will help us all make the most of the British crop in spite of its sometimes unusual appearance.

It’s hoped that leniency from supermarkets will help counteract the shortage and ease the pressure on food prices. Given that inflated prices on staple foods hit those on low incomes hardest, there is concern that inflated prices could have widespread health implications. Indeed, research by the FareShare group has shown that hard up families have reduced already their consumption of fruit and vegetables by a third as economic pressures increase, leaving them half way off the amount recommended for a healthy diet.

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at London’s City University, labelled the set of circumstances, which has seen healthier foods such as fruit become 34% more expensive in the last half decade, a “disaster for public health”.

Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to fruit and vegetable harvests. Today the National Farmer’s Union announced that England’s wheat yields are also down some 15%. The union’s president, Peter Kendall, added that:

There are many farmers who are down 25% to 30% on the wheat crop. In some cases you looked from the outside and you thought, this crop will do over four tonnes to the acre – and it’s been struggling to do three and some cases two tonnes to the acre.

The wider picture is equally gloomy, with global wheat prices up by 30% over the last year. This in turn is expected to have a knock on effect on supplies of meat, owing to the importance of grain in rearing livestock such as pigs and poultry.

Green Steve’s Reaction

Climate change is not solely about a warming of the planet, it is going to effect weather patterns across the world. Extreme weather such as we have seen here in the UK, and as they have had in the US with their droughts, does not produce ideal growing conditions so farmers will have to look for ways to minimize disruption.

Steve (156 Posts)

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