Growers turn to exotics veg in Med-like UK

Exotic crops traditionally found in the Mediterranean like olives, melons and grapes are now thriving in balmy Britain, a new study reveals.

An ever warmer climate is allowing British farmers to grow foods more commonly imported from as far afield as China.

Researchers say that as Brits' taste buds also grow more adventurous, subtropical crops could soon become staples here – but some native foods like potatoes will struggle as temperatures rise.

Horticulturists identified a top ten of exotic crops already being grown commercially in the UK.

Grapes are the most prolific with over 300 vineyards covering the country from Devon and Cornwall to Kent, Sussex and even Pembrokeshire in Wales.

Next come melons, which are being produced by more than 60 businesses, mainly in the South West and South East.

And the third most popular among farmers are artichokes with 45 growers nationwide.

Chillis originate from Mexico but the UK now has 19 producers.

Similarly, pak choi – also known as Peking cabbage – was first produced in China but now has 18 registered UK growers.

The vegetable okra – also known as lady’s fingers or gumbo - originates from Africa but has 17 UK suppliers.

There are 14 British butternut squash producers and five growers of the root vegetable salsify.

British-produced olive oil could soon be commonplace in our kitchens with the country already boasting two olive groves.
And completing the top ten is kohlrabi, a member of the cabbage family that is one of the most commonly eaten vegetables in Kashmir – but also produced by two businesses in Somerset.

The UK has lone producers of Asian favourites kai-lan – also known as Chinese broccoli – and edamame beans.

There is even a single tea growing plantation in Cornwall, which exports "quintessential" English tea to Japan. 

Previous research has suggested that other subtropical crops like dates, figs, aubergines, peppers and rice could also become staples of British agriculture within 20 years.

It means the British diet will, in future, be able to include produce currently imported from the other side of the world without incurring massive food miles.

However, some existing crops like potatoes will struggle as temperatures are predicted to rise by about 2C within 20 years.

The current research was carried out by leading horticulturist Christopher Collins to mark the launch of TV channel Good Food’s new Market Kitchen series (18 October).
He said: "Our report demonstrates that commercially-grown produce in the UK is now becoming less traditional.

"As temperatures continue to rise, scientists are predicting that over the next 70 years climate and soil conditions in the UK will be similar to those of southern Europe.

"We may no longer be able to grow some of our best-loved produce and many native species may be lost.

"The study suggests that while these ingredients may be relatively new to growers in the UK, they will become more common as time goes on.

"Warmer temperatures, combined with more adventurous British eating and growing habits, will add to local demand for exotic foods to be produced on our own shores."

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