Cauliflower crisis as ‘unprecedented’ weather sparks supermarket shortages

Cauliflowers are in short supply after a season of extreme weather. Picture: James Bass

Cauliflowers are in short supply after a season of extreme weather. Picture: James Bass - Credit: ECN - Archant

Cauliflowers are in short supply on supermarket shelves after 'unprecedented' extreme weather conditions wiped out crops and forced up prices.

Most of the UK's cauliflowers are grown in Lincolnshire, where record June rainfall flooded and damaged plants in the fields, while potential alternative supplies from Europe wilted in last month's heatwave - causing shortages and sending prices soaring.

The British Growers Association described the situation as "very concerning", adding: "Over the past two seasons we have seen extraordinary weather conditions and inevitably this influences supplies."

Steve Short is managing director of Norfolk supplier Accent Fresh, based in Downham Market, which supplies fresh produce to hotels, restaurants, schools, universities and caterers across East Anglia. He said the firm usually relied heavily on Lincolnshire for its cauliflowers, but has had to look further afield to make up for this year's shortfall.

"We have had to import them from Holland during the shortages," he said. "The growers have lost a lot of crop, so the market is very short and the price has gone up.

"We've been paying between £1.50 and £2.00 per head of cauliflower, it would normally be about 50 or 60p each."

Growers in Lincolnshire saw six inches of rainfall within a week in June - meaning anything that was planted before then, including cauliflowers and broccoli, was either washed out of the ground, or sat for weeks in flooded fields. Some have reported up to 80pc of production being lost in recent weeks.

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Brussels sprouts and red and white cabbage were also affected, but cauliflowers and broccoli were worst hit in July and August.

Tesco and Sainsbury's online sites are currently only offering organic cauliflowers, with the former advising customers that standard single and large cauliflowers are "currently unavailable".

British Growers chief executive Jack Ward said the cauliflower shortage was likely to continue until early September, but warned that broccoli was also starting to decline and Brussels sprouts crops had also been affected.

Mr Ward said: "For some [growers], a year's work was destroyed in one week of rains."

"Crops come in waves but we're looking at the shortage going on for another two to three weeks, possibly extending to broccoli.

"The rain also affected a lot of young plants so there are likely to be problems into winter across the board with brassicas. There's some way to go but crops that have been waterlogged, like Brussels spouts, it's not getting them off to the start they need to produce the quantities we would want to see."

It is unclear if consumers will see prices rise as a result of shortages, although Mr Ward suggested retailers would try to keep costs consistent.