Major UK supermarkets have been placing limits on fruit and vegetable sales after mass shortages throughout the nation with one group saying growers were delaying planting some crops due to high energy costs. The Lea Valley Growers Association has 80 members across an area that includes Greater London, Hertfordshire and Essex. Growers there produce around three quarters of the UK cucumber and pepper crops, along with a large quantity of aubergines and tomatoes.
The UK government and industry heads have blamed poor weather in North Africa and Spain as the reason for the shortage. A spokesperson for The Lea Valley Growers Association said shortages could last a month while some growers predict it will be longer.
Lee Stiles, secretary of the Lea Valley Growers Association (LVGA) said: "The majority of tomatoes, peppers and aubergines are not going to be around in big volumes until May, so it’s going to be longer than a few weeks".
He added: "Some Lea Valley pack houses have closed for a few days due to lack of deliveries, and others are losing workers as they could only offer three hours work a day instead of full shifts over the last few weeks.
"It’s too late for UK growers to step in and try and make up some of the shortfall. If we planted tomatoes, peppers and aubergines in December, we would be picking now. "And if we planted cucumbers in the first week of January like we normally do, we’d be picking on Valentines Day [14 February] as usual"
Mr Stiles also said the prices set by supermarkets in the UK make it hard for growers to make a living, and the high cost of energy has added further financial pressure. Stiles added that 10% of LVGA members have left the industry altogether, and many are growing less, saying: "It’s a simple fact of economics between the growers and the supermarkets,”
"Half of our growers didn’t grow last year, and half of our growers are not growing this year, and that’s because they couldn’t secure an increased price from the supermarkets to cover the increased cost of energy and fertiliser, and inputs that they needed in order to make a profit and make a living on the produce grown."
Stiles also added that when Spanish and Moroccan produce increases again growers in the those countries are more likely to sell closer to home saying: "You’ve got more fuel costs on a four day trip to the UK and there are additional fees to get it through the border," he said, adding that international growers are more likely to get a higher price for their goods in other countries.
"They can simply get a better price in Europe for less hassle," he said. "The UK is such a small market for Spanish and Moroccan produce. Who are they going to look after first?"