Leeks will be in short supply during the New Year after a “perfect storm” of weather and economic conditions have hit growers hard.
Leek producers are now struggling to make ends meet according to Tim Casey, chairman of the Leek Growers Association, as the cold spring and record dry summer take their toll on a category that is already losing market share.
The weakness of the pound, Brexit uncertainty and rising labour costs have added to their woes by further squeezing margins. According to the British Growers Association (BGA) yields are already down 23 per cent.
Unlike other categories which have also suffered similar hardships, leek sales don't enjoy the same levels of other staple crops like carrots, onions and lettuce. Casey called on growers' customers to support leek growers to prevent the category being "devestated".
“Leek growing and harvesting has never been easy, but we have never seen a year like this one, our leek crops have really struggled. They had delayed establishment with the cold wet spring and then the extreme hot dry conditions this summer, all this has slowed crop growth. And to cap it all we still have very dry soils so the usual autumn growth is just not happening,” Casey said.
“Crops have not grown to size before the onset of winter, so customers should expect smaller and more variable leeks this winter. Smaller leeks and lower volumes are likely to result in shortages in the New Year. Normally the UK would expect to import a proportion of its leeks from other parts of Europe, but European growers have been suffering from exactly the same problems as the UK growers.”
Growers are already reducing deliveries to customers in an attempt to give crops longer in the field according to the BGA.
"Production costs are high due to the lower yields and the fact that we are working with smaller leeks,” says Casey. “These weather conditions come on top of an already challenging year for labour availability, created by a weak pound and fears over Brexit resulting in a lack of quality field staff.
“In the past two years margins in leek growing have been severely reduced and growers are faced with real financial difficulty. Even with the relaxation on specifications to maximise yields without further support from our customers this ‘perfect storm’ could have a devastating effect on leek growing in this country.”