Fresh produce fears ‘growing’ after dry winter

The NFU is becoming 'increasingly concerned' about the fruit and vegetable sector

Worries about the impact of dry weather on the nation’s fruit and vegetable crops, and livestock production, have been voiced by farmers, after one of the driest winters in 20 years.

“We are growing increasingly concerned about the fruit and vegetable sector,” said National Farmers Union (NFU) vice president Guy Smith. “The situation is patchy with farmers, particularly in the south and east, reporting as low as 10% of their expected March and April rainfall.

“The livestock sector has also been hit with the dry weather leading to a shortage of grass, so there will potentially be an impact on silage crops. But, reservoirs are full and abstracted water sources are still available, albeit at lower than normal levels.”

Impact global supply and demand

Despite the growing concern, the NFU said the dry weather was unlikely to impact food prices. Wider-scale EU weather events could impact global supply and demand, but not in isolation of other market trends, it said.

NFU economist Anand Dossa said: “It’s the global dynamics of supply and demand that shape commodity prices, rather than the spell of dry weather we’ve been experiencing recently. The link between retail prices and farm-gate prices tends to be weak and time-lagged.

“For any commodity, a combination of factors will influence pricing levels. Transport, energy, labour, and packaging are all key cost areas for the UK food industry. A further factor in pricing levels is the margin taken by the supply chain.”

The NFU said it was “assessing the situation as this spell of dry weather continues”, with the Environment Agency, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, The Met Office and public water supply companies. But, there was currently no environmental or water supply issues, it said.

76% of the average seasonal rainfall

The NFU’s concerns came after the 2016/2017 winter was 1.3°C warmer than the 30-year average, with only 76% of the average seasonal rainfall, according to Met Office data.

National Climate Information Centre climate scientist Mark McCarthy said: “This winter has been dry for most of the UK. What is unusual is the combination of mild and dry conditions, as these factors do not usually go hand in hand in a typical UK winter.

“This is due to spells of high pressure bringing settled calm conditions being mixed in with depressions that have pulled warm air up from the south.”

The Met Office forecasted rain in the south of England for the end of this week (May 11 and 12) (see tweet below).

NFU on dry weather – at a glance
  • “Increasing concern” over fruit and veg sector
  • No current environmental or water supply issues
  • Food prices unlikely to be affected by weather alone

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