Growers are blaming City speculators for surging gas prices as many find themselves forced to switch to emergency oil supplies.
Gas prices on the spot market — the equivalent of the stock market for heavy users of gas — reached a record £1.65 per therm. This is up from about 31p at the start of November.
Colin Frampton, Donaldsons Flowers director, said he believes the City speculators are to blame for the rise in gas prices: “The City is playing with gas like it does with stocks and shares — we need the Government to have a look at the role they are playing in this crisis.”
The Cheshire-based ornamentals specialist has resorted to oil for one of its glasshouses to offset the increase in prices.
Frampton added: “When energy costs make up 30 per cent of your business, a price-hike like this can be devastating.”
Ben Smith, managing director of Bridge Greenhouses, said other growers will be forced to resort to oil in the next few weeks. He added: “I have spoken to growers considering the change and I don’t see glasshouses continuing to burn gas at these prices.”
Geoff Hooper, Southern Glasshouse Produce managing director, confirmed Frampton’s views. He added: “This is mainly a UK problem because we have the most privatised gas industry in the world — we need government involvement to allay the crisis.”
Chichester-based Hill Brothers has been using a coal-fired boiler since 1978 and has avoided problems. Kevin Hill, director, suggested growers should reconsider coal as an option (HW, 20 October).
Adlam on Energy
Horticulture adviser John Adlam says the industry needs to act now to win an exemption from cuts in energy supplies if energy supply problems should worsen.
In the same way that producers of a perishable commodity have some exemption from generalised water restrictions when supplies are low, horticulture businesses should get priority on the grounds that cutting energy would wipe out their product.
Adlam said he would be discussing the issue with the HTA.
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