The wet, mild winter that preceded the recent cold snap has been "a nightmare" for carrot growers, compounding earlier problems, British Carrot Growers Association chairman and Hobson Farming managing director Rodger Hobson has said. "Carrots aren't plentiful. There is a shortage due to flooding, which has affected several of the main growing areas including Yorkshire, Lancashire and Fife," he told HW.
The problems go back to before winter, he said, with the main-season crop already affected. "We had a miserable June so the crop didn't mature in time and people harvested too soon, so they needed more hectares to make the tonnage. The next problem was a bad virus attack in East Anglia, spread by the willow carrot aphid, and now in the north we've had plenty fields under water, where the carrots will rot if they're in it too long."
Hobson, a fourth-generation grower based near York who would normally expect to produce 26,000 tonnes of carrots from 325ha, added: "Talking to my co-growers, the very mild weather has also meant more disease issues, particularly cavity spot, which likes warmer, wetter conditions - and everyone can see more regrowth in crops under straw in the fields, whereas you want them just to sit there. In all it's a perfect storm.
"It doesn't bode well for storage. We try to produce all year round, but now there will be a window between the end of this crop and the new season that will have to be filled by imports."
Even away from areas affected by floods, the mild weather has disrupted winter crop production. David Simmons, managing director of Cornish brassica grower Riviera Produce, said: "It's been a major problem for us as cauliflower crops have come in early, with four months' production coming in two months. We are currently harvesting March varieties, which will mean a shortage of cauliflower is likely for the next three months."
He added: "We wasted huge volumes in the fields in November and December as there was not the sales for them. There have been similar issues right across Europe on cauliflower, all down to the very mild November and December."
English Apples & Pears chief executive Adrian Barlow warned of a higher incidence of canker in apple and pear trees as a result of the wet, "though how bad depends on the weather from here on". He added: "There are reports of a small number of pear trees in bloom already."
British Growers Association chief executive Jack Ward said: "There is a more interesting story here than just 'farmers complain about the weather'. We are seeing more volatile conditions, whether due to climate change or not, and the net effect on food production is significant, and not just temporary. It's something Defra's new food and farming strategy will need to take account of."