Extreme weather fuels rethink at Sherwood

Sherwood Produce, the eight-member producer organisation in the East Midlands, may have to consider new ways of managing its carrot supply if its strawed crops continue to be hit by exceptionally low temperatures, managing director Hugh Baker has said.

Baker, who also runs the agri-food consultancy Hub Rural, told delegates at the ADAS/Syngenta vegetable conference in Peterborough earlier this month that Sherwood might have to consider storing carrots because its strawed crops failed to stand up to this winter's -20 degsC temperatures.

Strawing crops is a common practice that sees the ground covered in a thick layer of straw in autumn to prevent the vegetables from suffering frost damage. They are then harvested between December and May.

Baker said: "We have significant fears for our normal harvest period. Will there be a third or a fourth cold winter? If so, we will have to think about storage facilities. The covers we used on carrots did not work this year - the straw did not work. It's not been enough at -20 degsC."

He told Grower after the conference that storing carrots is not popular with growers because the technology currently available is not up to scratch.

"It affects the skin finish on the carrots," he said. "The carrots that have been in store are very different from those that come out of the ground. And the industry demands good quality." He added that the extent of the damage to Sherwood Produce's crop this season was not yet known.

Baker also told delegates at the vegetable conference that the cold weather combined with rising input costs, attractive wheat prices and a lack of cash could prompt vegetable growers to stop growing some crops altogether.

He said: "The bad weather close to Christmas was the final straw for us - we had to import £5m of vegetables to supply our customers and we are not sure how this will be funded long term. I believe we are in for an interesting year in terms of what goes into the ground for 2011-12."

After the event, carrot grower Alfred G Pearce representative Lucy Wagstaff told Grower: "Our carrots in Yorkshire under straw have been hit by the frost, but not as badly as those in the open ground.

"Next year it will be about overcoming the problem - customers will need to know that they should have a contingency plan in place to ensure supply - so we may have to ask customers to build up a longer supply of strawed crops."

British Carrot Growers Association chairman and Freshgro managing director Martin Evans said that in his experience the straw had helped to prevent the worst of the damage during the frost.

Sherwood Produce chief urges growers to cooperate and stand up for themselves

Growers need stand up to the supermarkets and resist catering to their every whim, Sherwood Produce managing director Hugh Baker told delegates at this year's ADAS/Syngenta vegetable conference.

He said growers should stop putting themselves in a weak position and instead realise that they are the ones who hold all the power because they are the people who are closest to the biggest bargaining tool of all - the land.

"We need to change producers' mentality. Why do customers behave the way they do? Because they can. But they cannot get anywhere near the land, so let's use the land to make a difference."

He added that growers needed to work together because in his experience there was always someone willing to bow down to the supermarkets. He used Sherwood Produce as an example: "The most important fact of all is that (our) growers are not isolated. And knowledge is power."

He also said having a supermarket ombudsman, or adjudicator as it will be called under the coalition Government, was "a bit like having your mum come to the playground because someone has stolen your sweets".

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