Extreme weather drives up European produce prices

January 18 , 2017

Severe weather-related issues in countries like Spain and Italy have created major supply shortages in the European market, with prices expected to remain sky-high for the coming weeks. 

A combination of heavy rain, flooding, snow and cold temperatures over December and January have resulted in dire growing conditions, heavily affecting production.

The head of Ireland-based wholesale market Jackie Leonard & Sons, which sources from across the continent, told Fresh Fruit Portal Spain was currently the biggest produce supplier to the EU and its main growing regions had all been affected.

“There’s been extreme weather in Murcia, Alicante, Valencia and Malaga,” managing director Justin Leonard said.

“We’ve seen sub-zero temperatures in Central Europe, Germany, Poland, France – everywhere is affected and the crops just aren’t growing. Severe rain storms in the south of Spain have washed away a lot of plants. It’s been very cold in Italy too.”

While some fruits had also been affected, Leonard said vegetable lines were the worst hit.

“It’s mainly all salad lines – tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergine (eggplant), courgette (zucchini), capsicum, Iceberg lettuce, cos lettuce, rocket leaf, and broccoli is almost nonexistent now,” he said.

“Citrus has been affected as well – lemons, limes and nardorcotts. Not as badly as vegetables, but they have been affected as well.”

Prices have already shot up in the European market because of the shortages, and Leonard expected the situation would continue for a while.

“I would say at least somewhere between six to eight weeks, and that’s if we get good weather in the morning, but that’s not going to happen,” he said.

He added that many growers in Spain who had seen their crops washed away were unable to plant more at the moment as their fields were flooded.

“Severe reductions in Italy”

European Fresh Produce Association (Freshfel) general delegate Philippe Binard said this was not a situation that happened often.

“There are things that occur from time to time but I think here there’s been a combination of several factors that have made the situation probably more exceptional than all the variations that we could have on supply and demand,” he said.

“There has been quite a variation on the usual supply. I don’t have exact figures but most probably in Spain it could be 20%, 30%, 40% depending on the crop. In Italy also there has been severe reductions of the volumes.

“All this has affected broader market, and this is leading obviously to an increase of the price of the vegetables in many European markets.”

He added as the situation could not be rectified as soon as the weather improved, it is something that “may continue in the coming weeks”.

The Valencian Farmers Association (AVA-ASAJA) said frosts in the region had mostly affected citrus, artichokes and lettuce, adding that clouds and rainfall had softened the effect of the freezing temperatures somewhat.

Growers will have to wait and see how the weather changes over the coming days to have a better idea of how the season will end up, it said.

“Situation quite likely to worsen”

Meanwhile, a representative from U.K.-based supplier Nationwide Produce said Murcia in southeastern Spain was the hardest hit with heavy rains just before Christmas, but explained all the southern regions had suffered from cold temperatures and low light levels.

“Product is simply not growing at its normal pace or has been wiped out by floods,” group managing director Tim O’Malley said.

“At this time of year the U.K. is heavily reliant on Spain for salad and vegetable supply. Just about every vegetable and salad crop from Spain is affected but in particular courgettes, Iceberg, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, aubergines.”

“We will start to see shortages from planting gaps soon as product that was due to be planted just before Christmas has either not been planted or washed away. Shortages will last for another six to 10 weeks.”

He added Iceberg lettuce was being airfreighted in from the U.S., something that only happens in times of “desperate shortage.”

An executive from another U.K. supplier that works with Spanish growers believed zucchini and lettuce were the most heavily affected items, and said there were “crazy levels of price inflation” in the market.

 “The signs are that the situation is quite likely to worsen,” Reynolds head of marketing Andy Weir said.

“The freezing temperatures in Spain are expected to improve a little over the next few days or so, but not enough to make a huge difference to crop growth.

“Rain is also predicted for several days, which will make harvesting difficult. With growers already harvesting early to meet demand, things will remain very tight for some time.”

JEM Fruits U.K. sales director Ricky Benn said he had spoken to contacts in Spain earlier today and “they basically can’t get anything out.”

“The situation has gone from bad to worse. The heads of broccoli and cauliflower are not making the right sizes and unfortunately we have to go elsewhere –  we’re looking at sourcing from Poland, but they have bad weather there as well,” he said.

“We are looking all over the place. We are bringing butternut squash in from South Africa because the produce in Portugal and Spain has been ruined. And we are trying to bring in cucumbers from Greece as well.”

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