Sprouts will be in short supply for Christmas

Sprout growers have warned of a severe shortage at Christmas as farmers have been unable to plant vegetable crops in sodden and flooded fields.

Sprout growers have warned of a severe shortage at Christmas as farmers have been unable to plant vegetable crops in sodden and flooded fields.

South Lincolnshire farmer Roger Welberry, president of the British Sprout Growers Association, said prices would inevitably rise: “It is going to be a very difficult harvest and the yields are going to be down because the acreage isn't there now. I would say we've lost up to 40pc of the crop.”

“One sprout grower has lost his entire crop of 60 acres,” said Mr Welberry, who grows about 400 acres of sprouts at Kirton Holme, near Spalding. “We have lost quite a bit and possibly about one third of our acreage.”

Farmers plant from March, so that the seven-month Brussels sprout harvest can begin in September. “It has been so wet that we've got fields under 1ft of water with sea gulls, plovers and other wading birds where there should be sprouts,” said Mr Welberry.

Norfolk vegetable specialist, Paul Corfield, said that field vegetable crops - cauliflowers, calabrese, cabbage and Brussels sprouts - will be short this autumn. But, there could also be gluts if late-planted crops all come together, he added.

Mr Corfield, of PP Products, of Tunstead, said growers in key vegetable areas of Lincolnshire have not been able to plant crops in sequence. “Instead of planting cauliflowers every five days, they've missed weeks. Some haven't planted anything for three or four weeks.”

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“It is going to be a situation when there will be periods of great shortage and then glut. Wet feet and brassicas don't go together,” he added.

“Brussels sprouts will be short. They won't grow to their proper height, so therefore you won't get the size of buttons,” said Mr Corfield, who was in Scotland yesterday where the situation is not much better.

The rin has hit other crops like carrots, which don't like wet soil. “Parsnips won't be yielding as well. Potatoes are rotting in the fields. Vining peas weren't harvested. And so it goes on.

“French cauliflowers growers are struggling to plant. And in Holland, a colleague said their root crops are rotting because the water table is so high.

“There will be vegetables but not the volume of vegetables which people have had. It has hit the whole of northern Europe,” he added.

Arable farmers have been struggling to harvest but heavy rain showers have made progress patchy. Christine Hill, deputy chairman of Norfolk National Farmers' Union, said: “We were trying to combine grass seed but at 1.30pm the clouds opened and that was it. I think everybody having a bit of a stab whenever they can.”

Norfolk farmer Chris Harrold, of Oulton, estimated that more than half the national vining pea crop has been lost. He could not understand why supermarkets were running promotional offers on peas. “It is madness. Now, they're slashing at each other's prices but desperately need that money ourselves as growers,” he added.

His group, Aylsham Growers, has performed slightly better but growers in Lincolnshire and Humberside have had a torrid time.

On the cereal harvest, fortunes are mixed. Robin Baines, of Wroxham, reported the quality of malting barley, Maris Otter and Pearl, as reasonable. “We combined yesterday and got stuck twice.”

Environment secretary Hilary Benn has extended the suspension of cross compliance rules to August 31 to allow farmers to take equipment and vehicles on waterlogged soil to access their crops.

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