UK’s Fruit and Vegetable Production Declines Sharply Amid Extreme Weather

UK fruit and vegetable production decline

The UK’s fruit and vegetable production has sharply declined due to extreme weather conditions severely impacting farms. Over the 2023-24 growing year, the country experienced the wettest 18 months on record, resulting in waterlogged soil and some farms completely submerged. This has led to disastrous harvests, with data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs revealing a significant drop in yields.

Vegetable production fell by 4.9% to 2.2 million tonnes in 2023, while fruit production decreased by 12% to 585,000 tonnes. Scientists attribute this trend to climate change driven by fossil fuel combustion, predicting more extreme weather for the UK, including frequent floods and droughts.

Farmers reported that the excessive wet weather prevented planting, reflected in the statistics. The vegetable growing area decreased by 6.5% to 101,000 hectares. Additionally, a dry early summer in 2023 hindered those unable to irrigate, making planting difficult.

The autumn and winter’s wet conditions led to a 3.1% reduction in the planted area of brassicas, resulting in a 0.4% drop in broccoli yields and a 9.2% decline in cauliflower volumes. Onion production faced similar challenges, with volumes down by 13% and a 3.6% reduction in production area. Carrot yields fell by 7.2%.

Farmers emphasized the need for the next government to develop a robust plan for food security as the UK faces increasingly unpredictable climate patterns and extreme weather events.

Guy Singh-Watson, founder of Riverford fruit and vegetable boxes, called the data a “wake-up call, highlighting the dire state of British horticulture.” He urged the next government to establish a long-term, legally defined plan to ensure food security, address environmental issues, and tackle the exploitative practices of supermarkets and their suppliers. “It’s high time we reinstated honesty and decency in our supply chains,” he added.

Martin Emmett, chair of the National Farmers’ Union horticulture and potatoes board, commented, “These stark statistics are unfortunately not surprising. Recent shortages of popular fruits and vegetables demonstrate the importance of valuing our food security and preventing further production decline. The UK horticulture sector aims to increase production, but it needs governmental investment to realize its potential and support our horticulture strategy.”

Julian Marks, group chief executive of Barfoots Farms, told the Grocer, “The latest Defra statistics underscore the challenges growers have faced over the past 12 to 18 months, including weather-related risks and extraordinary levels of input cost inflation.” He added, “Although inflation has somewhat eased recently, it remains a concern, and weather risks have intensified over the winter, with heavy rain impacting soils and growers’ ability to plant for the upcoming season.”