The mild autumn has caused much of Britain’s green vegetable and potato crops to grow early, leading to gluts and large amounts of waste, and fears of shortages early next year.
Cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli that were supposed to be ready later in December or in January are ready to harvest now, some have grown to large sizes due to the unusually mild autumn.
Farmers who have been growing vegetables for decades say they have never seen anything like it before and have had to “rip up” their sowing and harvesting timelines due to the unpredictable climate.
Guy Singh-Watson, the founder of organic vegetable company Riverford, told the Guardian he had hundreds of tonnes of surplus vegetables because of the “amazing” weather. He works with FareShare, a charity that distributes surplus food to those in poverty, to get extra brassicas and potatoes to those who need them.
He told the Guardian: “I’ve been growing vegetables for 35 years and plan my sowing and harvesting dates every year based on what I’ve learned, so this year I could have just ripped it up and thrown it all away. The climate is changing very quickly. This is the first time in 35 years that we have been operating this far, due to the extraordinary weather. I hope I never see this again.”
The company deals with an enormous abundance of vegetables. Singh-Watson said: “We have a lot of savoy cabbages on the stack, 13,000 to be cut next week, lots of leeks too and lots of cauliflower coming up. They’re all huge, the Savoys are huge, the cauliflowers are huge.
“It’s mainly the weather, it’s just been mild enough that we’re picking savoys and purple sprouting broccoli that should come in January. We can talk our customers into putting more greens in the boxes, but there’s a limit.”
He believes there may be a shortage of these vegetables in January and February. “It will be a problem, we will not be able to grow them again, most of these crops will be grown [again] in around July. That crop is gone. When they arrive early, it will probably mean we will be short at some point after Christmas.”
Large amounts of the profits go to FareShare, but much is thrown away or fed to livestock. Martin Lines, who heads the Nature Friendly Farming Network, said: “I’ve heard the same from farmers. When the weather changes and is warmer than normal, demand drops and supermarkets cancel contracts.”
Consumer demand is also to blame; the mild weather means that people are not yet in the mood for sprouts and cabbage.
Mark Tufnell, the president of the Country Land and Business Association, said: “Severe summer droughts have devastated crops and now consumer demand for winter vegetables is being hurt by unusually warm November weather. While supermarkets are adapting by offering vegetables – such as potatoes and brassicas – of smaller size, many refuse to pay farmers a price that will cover production costs. This leaves farmers with no choice but to limit the amount of food they produce.”