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Crunch time: Fears of a carrot shortage after summer heatwave

Norfolk carrot grower Simon Pearce has warned about a carrot shortage this year. Pictured are carrots grown in a field at Wormegay. Picture: Ian Burt

Norfolk carrot grower Simon Pearce has warned about a carrot shortage this year. Pictured are carrots grown in a field at Wormegay. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2018

A “perfect storm” of poor growing conditions has brought fears of a carrot shortage which could push up prices at the shops.

Norfolk carrot grower Simon Pearce has warned about a potential carrot shortage this year. Picture: Ian BurtNorfolk carrot grower Simon Pearce has warned about a potential carrot shortage this year. Picture: Ian Burt

East Anglia’s carrot growers are expecting their lowest yields for decades after the cold, wet spring delayed planting by a month and then the hot summer brought weeks without rain, with temperatures far beyond the 15C-18C optimum for carrots – halting their growth.

While the UK industry is usually 97pc self-sufficient all year round, the British Carrot Growers Association said “substantial imports” will be required this year, but as mainland Europe has also suffered similar weather conditions, the vegetables are not plentiful there either. Chairman Rodger Hobson said the carrot “crisis” could continue for up to 11 months, adding: “It is almost inevitable that the price in the shops will go up.”

Simon Pearce is a director of Alfred G Pearce at Setchey near King’s Lynn, which grows 95,000 tonnes of carrots and parsnips a year across 2,500 acres in Norfolk, Suffolk, Yorkshire and the Midlands.

He said while his main crop due for harvest from August is “behind the curve”, his biggest concern is for his early-drilled carrots which are being harvested now.

One of Simon Perarce's carrot fields at Wormegay. Picture: Ian BurtOne of Simon Perarce's carrot fields at Wormegay. Picture: Ian Burt

“It is the current crop we are trying to harvest which is very water-needy,” he said. “The last rain we had was five or six weeks ago, but the last significant rain was longer than that, probably a couple of months.

“We can put on as much water as we like, but the carrots just shut down over a certain temperature.

“We have ended up with a 2-3 week supply gap. That means no carrots unless we go into crops that are below our budgeted yield. We cannot keep robbing the crop when it is too small, so there will come a time when we will have to hold our hands up and stop.

“We cannot import either, because there are exactly the same problems on the continent. It has created a perfect storm.”

Norfolk carrot grower Simon Pearce of Alfred G Pearce with crop manager, Lucy Sharp. Picture: Ian BurtNorfolk carrot grower Simon Pearce of Alfred G Pearce with crop manager, Lucy Sharp. Picture: Ian Burt

Mr Pearce said, unless significant rains arrive to narrow the supply gap, it could be reflected on shop shelves within two or three weeks – although he believes the shortfall could be balanced by compromises on processed food, such as removing carrots from coleslaw or pre-packed salad bags.

“For the retailers, I don’t think anything will run out. You are more likely to find that certain things are ‘engineered out’ of products. But the price has got to go up,” he said.

“As producers, we have got the same prices we were on 20 years ago. We have managed to live with that in terms of investment and automation and increasing our yield through better husbandry, but everyone is on the line in terms of price, so the slightest thing to unbalance that will mean we are falling into loss immediately. There si no margin at all.

“We have got some very uncomfortable conversations with our customers. There are a lot of tenders that kick off in September and we are saying we cannot put a physical price on it – but rest assured it has got to be more than last year.”


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