'Too early for alarm over pea prices'

East Anglia's two major frozen vegetable processors have played down fears of rising pea prices after the UK harvest was hit by recent downpours.

East Anglia's two major frozen vegetable processors have played down fears of rising pea prices after the UK harvest was hit by recent downpours.

The Processed Vegetable Growers Association (PVGA) yesterday warned that up to 25pc of this summer's pea harvest could be lost because of the heavy rains, mainly because machinery was unable to get to waterlogged crops.

It was claimed the resulting shortage of peas could lead to price increases as high as 50p per 1kg bag.

But last night, frozen pea giant Pinguin Foods, based in King's Lynn, said it was too early to get alarmed.

Lewis Hodgson, head of UK procurement for the firm, said that although its peas had been affected by the weather, mainly in Lincolnshire, it was too early to tell if this would affect prices as its peak picking period is in July.

"It is too early to get alarmed," he said. "Our main processing is in July so we are not overly concerned at the moment. It is how much we can get in July which will effect how we do."

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Pinguin's season has already been disrupted this year because a mild April then wet May meant it had to start early.

And the recent wet weather has meant that although a recent acquisition of a Boston firm has increased its daily capacity from 500 to 600 tonnes, it is only doing half that amount at the moment.

However, Mr Hodgson said having growers in Norfolk and Kent meant it had some protection against potential crop damage in the flooded areas.

A spokeswoman for Birds Eye, which has a large plant at Lowestoft, reiterated Pinguin's comments. She said: "As we are only at the beginning of the pea harvest it is too early to evaluate the full extent and therefore if there will be any price implication."

Birds Eye sources its peas from farmers across Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.

Tim Mudge, commercial manager at the PVGA, said harvest machinery was unable to reach water-logged crops

in parts of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.

He warned: "If there is a shortage the retail price will go up. We are afraid the only people to benefit from this will be the retailers."

Mr Mudge said pea growers were on fixed-price contracts and so wouldn't benefit if consumers had to pay

more.

The National Farmers' Union said the industry also faced potato blight in some crops and problems with hay-making because of the heavy rain.

Pick-your-own farms have been affected in some areas because fruit has been damaged by the downpours.

NFU vice president Paul Temple, who grows peas on his Yorkshire farm, said harvesting conditions were "exceptionally difficult".

"We have had to abandon crops in the fields currently under water in the hope there will be something left to salvage once the flooding subsides," he said.

"We are all bracing ourselves for more heavy rain and it is heartbreaking to work so hard growing a crop that may just rot in the fields."

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