Vegetable seed shortage sparks fears of insufficient stock and seed price increases

A shortage of vegetable seeds is fuelling fears commercial growers could be left struggling for certain varieties and paying higher prices.

Unprecedented wet weather and flooding this year has affected seed supplies and quality across northern Europe. Some seed companies are reporting shortages for a number of vegetable varieties including carrots, spinach, cabb-ages, peas and beans.

Processed Vegetable Growers Association commercial manager Tim Mudge said: "Growers have told me there are concerns for next spring for pea seeds. Seed companies have told them there is a shortage and as a result prices will have to increase."

He said this was worrying for pea growers who, despite securing better prices for 2008 in the almost complete contract negotiations, were concerned any increases will be swallowed up. "Although many are pleased with the (price) rise they think it will just be eroded by costs of higher seed prices, fuel and the lack of available land."

Sakata Seed vegetable division sales and marketing manager Stuart Cox said news of the lack of seeds was causing many growers to order early to avoid being unable to source seeds.

"On some crops people are ordering early - before Christmas rather than next spring - because they realise it's prudent."

Cox said he knew spinach was down 20-30 per cent and most legumes were affected, but it was seed companies that sourced predominantly from northern Europe that were worst affected. "We get most of our vegetables - broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage - not from Europe but Japan, North America and South America. In those cases we have a few limited shortages but generally we are comfortable." He said he could not comment on prices as the shortages were not on the seeds Sakata sells.

Pea and beans agent David Trethewey Seeds partner Andrew Pritchard said: "Because we saw green crops suffer, sometimes with 50 per cent losses, the seed crops have had real problems."

Pritchard added that his own company would be all right: "We have been able to bring in seeds from other places outside Europe, although we will still struggle to meet some early contracts."

Martin Strickson, representative of Elsoms Seeds, the UK marketing company for Bejo, said: "We have no reason to believe our material will be short. Subject to quality tests in Holland being completed we think it will be fine."

He admitted that across Europe it had been a bad production year - but he believed the firm could allay fears of a shortage. He said: "It's been a very difficult seed production year in many parts of Europe but... Bejo reduces that risk by producing around the world."

He said that, as ever, if there is a shortage in one variety there will always be another to fill the gap and Bejo was particularly pleased with its stocks of parsnips.

The British Potato Council has reported potato seeds have not been badly affected. Seed and export manager Iain Dykes said: "There's plenty of seed around still but certain varieties are quite short. As around 80 per cent of seed potatoes come from Scotland and that was not as badly affected as the rest of the country, stocks are holding up well."

The shortage is in seeds for potato processing varieties, such as Hermes.

British Society of Plant Breeders would not comment on whether there was a seed shortage.

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