UK Tomato Shortages
Many supermarkets are currently facing a shortage of tomatoes and peppers from Southern Europe. Could this disruption to supply prompt a change in our shopping and eating behaviours towards seasonality?
This week the shortage of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers has dominated the media, with news reports, images and videos of barren supermarket vegetable aisles circulated online and rationing systems being put in place in some supermarkets, limiting the number of vegetables per customer.
Whilst it may seem ridiculous that a shortage of items like this has been given such extensive coverage, it generates wider debate on issues prevalent within our consumer habits, food systems and farming in the UK.
So, why are supermarkets experiencing these shortages?
There are several reasons supermarkets are currently facing fruit and veg shortages, one of these being the reliance we have as a country on imported produce. In the UK we currently import around 95% of our tomatoes during the winter seasons, especially in recent years when energy costs have risen, resulting in UK producers planting less crops.
Image: Unusual cold weather has lead to a shortage of tomatoes and pepper from Spain and Morocco.
Unusually cold and wet weather conditions in Spain and Morocco have meant the normal supply of fruit and veg has been affected, as well as transportation of produce with ferries cancelled in Morocco, leaving the UK short of these vegetables.
There is also widespread blame on Brexit for creating more challenges to the supply chain and meaning there are more barriers to importing from the EU.
UK tomato producers claim to have warned the government of empty shelves, asking for energy support due to the costs of heating greenhouses for their industry. This has not been provided, leaving the UK much more susceptible to shortages such as this, with less supply from our own soils available.
The unusual weather conditions being experienced in Southern Europe can be attributed to climate change, with weather fluctuating and being extremely unpredictable for this time of year.
This is not an isolated experience in Spain and Morocco, or even this time of year, with unusual or unseasonal weather conditions becoming more common across the globe and affecting people, industries, wildlife, and the environment; think back to last year when the UK experienced the hottest summer on record with temperatures exceeding 40C.
Events like this are creating a greater awareness of the impacts of climate change amongst the public, with something that previously seemed so distant becoming closer to home than ever before and affecting people’s everyday lives.
What’s the solution?
The NFU is calling for more public spending to help protect the UK’s homegrown food supply and support our farmers as they face more challenges than ever before. Key to this, Minette Batters - president of the NFU, claims are three cornerstones “boosting productivity, protecting the environment and managing volatility.”
Image: Supporting local farmers and growers can help better the UK's food security.
Supporting our local farmers more will mean there is less demand on produce from overseas, reducing the volume of fruit and veg we need to import, thus boosting the UK economy and combating the environmental impact associated with food miles.
Increased support of UK farmers will also mean that they are able to invest in more sustainable agriculture, encouraging farming practices that work with the environment and actively help protect it, much like on our own organic family farm.
In the past, when imports were less prevalent in Britain’s food market, some produce simply wasn’t available year-round. This meant that people had to eat with the seasons, enjoying locally grown food when it was available at that time of year.
Perhaps, more than anything the current shortage of tomatoes and peppers is proving we need to return to this style of eating, getting creative with what is available in our own fields, instead of expecting the same foods to always be a supermarket trip away.
Our tomato and pepper supply
Due to amazing relations with our suppliers and the way we work with them, paying a fair price, we have fortunately not been impacted as heavily as larger supermarkets in regard to our supply of tomatoes and peppers, testament to the great community organic farming builds.
In the winter we do supplement demand for of organic tomatoes and peppers with imports from Spain, however we are looking forward to when tomatoes come into season in the UK, from June to October, and we can start harvesting our own tomatoes from the Market Garden!