Summer heatwave hits salad farmers
Salad greens could soon disappear from supermarket shelves as UK heatwave hits producers with double whammy of increased demand and poor crops
In recent years we’ve been warned about a number of potential shortages that could hit the food and drink industry, from avocados to coffee and even prosecco. Next in the firing line could be your lunchtime salad as the UK looks set to be heading for a significant lettuce shortage.
High demand, low production
The main cause of this shortage is the long spell of hot dry weather that the UK has been experiencing. Over the last couple of months the UK has basked in temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s, with some areas experiencing their hottest ever recorded temperature.
While the sunny weather has been good for sales of bikinis, ice creams and sunscreen, it has been a different story altogether for the UK’s salad farmers.
The unusually high temperatures have seen demand for leafy salads soar with around 18 million heads of lettuce sold in just one week – a 5 million increase from the same period last year. However the same record temperatures are also having a negative impact on salad crops, with lettuce unable to grow in temperatures of 30 degrees and above.
Growers across the UK, from Fife to East Anglia, Chichester to Preston, have all been affected by the weather conditions and experts are predicting that we could see gaps in supermarket shelves within the next couple of weeks if action is not taken. And it’s not just lettuce affected, with crops such as broccoli and cauliflower also struggling in the heat.
Of all the leafy salads sold within the UK, around 90% are usually grown within the country. However, as a shortage starts to look inevitable, both producers and retailers are having to look to other sources to make up the shortfall. In this situation, importing may be the only option, and with temperature controlled transport allowing companies to keep salad in peak condition during transit, transporting lettuce from countries with unaffected harvests could be a viable solution. Lettuce crops in western and southern Europe have also been affected by the weather, so consumers could well see salads from the other side of the Atlantic on their next supermarket visit.
Longer term threat
Some experts are warning that this summer’s heatwave is a sign of things to come, and that we can expect to see hotter and more extreme weather as the effects of climate change start to be felt more keenly. If this is indeed the case, then we can expect to see more severe and widespread produce shortages as temperatures continue to rise. If no action is taken to halt climate change or mitigate its effects, the percentage of British-grown crops on our shelves is almost certain to decrease as we are forced to look to countries further afield to fulfil our nutritional needs.
A conversation for another day perhaps. In the meantime, as the rest of the British public head to the beach or beer garden, our salad growers wait with bated breath for cooler temperatures and a drop of much-needed rain.