Low light levels, cool temperatures and high fuel prices are combining to cause major concern to UK salads growers at the start of their season.
The troubles come on the back of a particularly difficult year in 2012. Lee Stiles, secretary of the Lea Valley Growers Association, said: “It has been a worrying start to the season, with many cucumber growers reporting yields down by as much as 40 per cent compared to this time last year, mainly due to the poor light levels. This has been compounded by up to 50 per cent more gas use at higher prices and supermarket promotions at the start of the British season.”
The situation is no different for growers of capsicum. LVGA chairman Gary Taylor, who grows sweet peppers, said: “The big unknown is the 20 per cent down on light on the 12-year average and what that will do long term. I suspect that it will again be a poor year following last year's worst ever.”
Meanwhile, the NFU has described recent cold temperatures and low consumer demand as delivering a double whammy to the protected ornamentals sector in the UK. The dampened market demand has made it hard for growers to clear spring stock, and more fuel than usual has been needed to heat glasshouses.
Ian Howard of Ornamental Plants Ltd in Preston is having to burn more oil to keep his plants alive. “This is making our costs of growing horrendous," he explained. "It’s also stopping us from taking on more seasonal staff. The multiple retailers are cutting back their seasonal plant orders to reduce their exposure on such a weather-dependent part of their business. In the meantime we’ve got plants backing up and are starting to run out of space. I’ve got two weeks’ worth of bedding plants unsold because sales are so poor.”
As consumers have not shown much interest in getting out into their gardens during the cold weather, retailers are abandoning the spring season and moving their attentions to summer stock. This leaves growers holding vast quantities of unsold stock, which will most likely have to be thrown away as there is no other market.
Earlier this year, the NFU announced that it would be holding a supply chain summit to bring together ornamental growers and buyers to try to find ways of sharing risk and reward more equitably throughout the supply chain.
NFU horticulture board member and chairman of the British Protected Ornamentals Association, Ian Riggs, said: “With so much investment and talent at stake, the British ornamental sector needs to move away from a boom-or-bust culture and find ways of injecting stability and commitment into its supply chain. Growers can’t keep lurching from one season to the next hoping for a good year to put them back on track.”