Fears drought and high gas prices could cause UK food shortages this winter


There is a risk of food shortages in the UK this winter, experts have said, as the drought and high gas prices put pressure on farmers.

While growers who use glasshouses are either not sowing or waiting until spring when there are more daylight hours, the crops that would usually have sustained the country during fallow periods, such as cabbages, carrots and potatoes, are likely to have reduced yields because of the drought, the Guardian understands.

Although there has been rainfall across the UK recently, which at times has been heavy, this has not been enough to replenish river, reservoir and groundwater levels, which dwindled during the record dry period. Farmers were hoping for weeks of consistent rain to make the soil softer for drilling crops, but this has not happened.

Things are not likely to improve during the crucial sowing periods in September, according to forecasts from the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Almost all river flows, except for some in the north-west, Scotland and Northern Ireland, are forecast to be at low or exceptionally low levels for the month, and the long-range forecast does not suggest it will be the very wet month that is needed for crops.

“The fruit and veg sector is undoubtedly in crisis,” said Rob Percival, the head of food policy at the Soil Association. “Many growers have suffered a 20% reduction in the production of crops this year and most growers are anticipating further reductions in the year ahead. Without immediate and concerted action from government, we can expect to see growing business going bust and shortages on supermarket shelves.”

Charities have called for more support for growers. Ben Reynolds, the deputy chief executive of Sustain, said: “Growers are facing an impossible situation that is beyond their control. With the recent droughts and impact of the climate crisis making it harder to grow [reliably], worker issues, and energy costs going through the roof, there is a very real likelihood of empty shelves in the coming months.

“Some producers will be out of business, flying in the face of the government’s aims for us to be more self-sufficient, and this will affect the health of the country if citizens can’t access affordable healthy food.

“The government may believe trade deals are the answer, if their plan is to let the British farming industry decline and import more produce, but these problems are global, and leaving this to the free market may in practice mean a very empty market. They need to step in and find a way to cut energy costs for food businesses and expand renewables capacity.”

The Soil Association, which certifies organic food, is calling for more sustainable farming practices to be adopted by farmers and supported by government to mitigate drought in future.

Percival said: “The government must deliver a comprehensive horticulture strategy that prioritises agroecological growing. This year’s drought led to reduced quality and yield, and such impacts can only be mitigated if the right incentives are in place to support growing techniques that build soil health and organic matter.

“Healthier soils can provide resilience in the face of geopolitical and climate shocks, and we can expect more severe shocks in the future,” he added.

A spokesperson for the National Farmers’ Union said: “Growers have certainly faced challenges due to the ongoing dry weather and overall lack of rainfall this year. The ground conditions as a result of that will be a challenge for growers looking to sow and harvest crops over the next few weeks.

“In regards to energy, there have been ongoing concerns among growers, particularly those that are more energy intensive such as those growing under glass, about the rising energy costs.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been contacted for comment.

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Marta Lopez

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