Various winter vegetables have been badly affected by flooding across England, with Nationwide Produce reporting shortages

Flooding has wreaked havoc for vegetable growers across the country, with many producers of carrots, parsnips and brassicas unable to lift their crop due to the heavy rain brought by Storm Henk.

At the time of writing, there were more than 250 flood warnings still in force, the majority in the Midlands, East Anglia and southern England. Yorkshire and Lincolnshire have also been badly affected.

Carrots, parsnips, leeks, cauliflowers and cabbages – all of which are harvested in January – are reportedly the crops hardest hit. And one of the worst-affected counties is Nottinghamshire, a major carrot-growing area.

The harvesting equipment now available to carrot growers makes it rare that they can’t dig their crop, but Tim O’Malley of Nationwide Produce said this has been the experience of many producers in recent days, particularly in Nottinghamshire.

He reported shortages of carrots, parsnips and leeks as a result of the wet weather, adding that volumes of cauliflower and cabbage have been less affected since there is a greater proportion of imports at this time of year.

In leeks, a major crop for Lincolnshire, one of the main issues has been finding enough staff, O’Malley says, because “who wants to cut leeks in this weather?”

Carrots grown in lighter soil have fared better, he added.

Jack Ward of British Growers described Storm Henk as “the straw that has broken the camel’s back” for many growers, coming after a long period of adverse weather that began months ago.

“It started raining in September and we’ve had little dry weather since, so the ground’s been saturated,” Ward explained. “These conditions will put a lot of stress on crops that are planned to provide us with fresh produce for the next 12-15 weeks.

“The next problem is that we need to start planting vegetable crops for harvesting when Spanish crops start to run out in May. So, if plantings are delayed, we could see some real pinch points as we swap between the seasons.”

As well as impacting product quality, heavy rain can damage soil health and affect the creatures living below the surface.

“The sheer weight of water on the soil does long-term damage to all the creatures that live below the surface, such as worms,” Ward explained. “You get this massive compaction effect.”

Drier weather is forecast next week, but O’Malley warned that with it may come frost.

“If it’s a hard frost, then that could be a disaster as the water the carrots and snips are sitting in freezes, causing serious damage to the crop. However, the signs are it’s not going to be a hard frost, so hopefully we’ll avoid serious damage.

“That said, we will see seriously reduced yields as a result of carrots and snips sitting in water, so like last year, we’re likely to see an extended and heavy period of imports at the end of the season.

“Last year, the main source of import carrots by far was Israel. For obvious reasons, that’s got a big question mark hanging over it at the moment, so availability of carrots could be very tight in April/May/June.”