Difficult start for salads season

Growers report crops around two weeks behind due to weather as gas prices go 'through the roof'.

High gas prices, poor growth and low demand have meant a tough start to the season for glasshouse salad growers.

"Gas prices have gone through the roof and glasshouse growers are tearing their hair out," according to glasshouse crops consultant and Cucumber Growers Association technical director Derek Hargreaves.

"Tomatoes haven't got going yet. Everything's about two weeks behind. Cucumbers are probably worse - growers have only grown 50 per cent of what they had this time last year."

He explained: "At this time of year, you are likely to have restrictions on how much gas you can use, but then you don't expect to have to use so much. As a result, growers aren't achieving the temperatures they need."

While coal remains moderately priced, oil is prohibitive, he added. "But I know of growers in this part of the country (East Yorkshire) who are on biomass who say they wouldn't be in business if they were still on conventional fuel. For some who still are, their days are numbered. The big problem is supermarkets, who are not prepared to pay enough for produce."

The poor weather has also hit demand for salad crops. "But when the weather changes, growers won't be able to turn crops around so quickly," said Hargreaves.

Gas prices peaked at around £1.50 a therm a fortnight ago and remain high by historical standards. Farm Energy Centre commercial director Chris Plackett said: "This is the reality of gas supply now and it's not likely to change in the short term."

Disruptions in the supply from Norway have depleted UK stocks, exacerbating the problem of high demand. "When you buy short term, you risk being caught out by these fluctuations," he added.

Using thermal screens and temperature-integration strategies can ease the impact to some extent, said Plackett. "But we have heard of growers who are simply settling for a lower temperature than they are comfortable with - even down to 10-12 degsC - just to keep things going."

Show presence lost

The Cucumber Growers Association (CGA) will not be returning to exhibit at the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham this June, according to technical director Derek Hargreaves.

"It's not cheap to appear and the CGA has limited funds - and most of those who go to the show already buy British anyway."

However, the Tomato Growers Association will maintain a presence at the show, he added.

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