Spanish crops still “thin on the ground” for U.K. market
Supplies of broccoli, salad leaves, bell peppers and tomatoes remain low following planting gaps earlier in the growing season, exacerbated by recent low light levels.
The impacts of the extreme weather in Spain earlier this year are still being felt by British suppliers as planting gaps caused by lack of accessibility during December and January continue to restrict broccoli, salad crops and bell peppers.
Prices across several categories will continue to be pushed up as U.K. suppliers struggle to source high quality produce from Spanish regions battered by heavy rainfall and unusually low temperatures and snow earlier this year.
The extreme weather not only wiped out high volumes of some crops at the time leading to rationing in supermarkets, but because new plantings were also scuppered, crop volumes remain low and there are knock-on effects for many vegetables.
Spanish broccoli, peppers and lettuce remain in short supply, while zucchini, eggplant and cucumbers seem to be making a recovery.
Andy Weir from Reynolds, a supplier of Spanish salad crops to the U.K. foodservice industry, tells Fresh Fruit Portal supply will remain tight and prices high for the next few weeks.
“Availability of leaf from Spain has dramatically improved over recent weeks, since the well-publicised troubles during the beginning of year. However volumes are now getting tight again due to the gap in plantings seen over January and December, particularly for Iceberg and Cos, with products now due for harvesting ‘thin on the ground’,” he says.
“The situation will not improve for the next couple of weeks and market prices will remain high.
On top of the already low supply, further weather complications over the last few days are also impacting pepper and tomato production.
“Cold and wet weather over the last few days have reduced yields of Spanish pepper and tomato plants. Given that production levels are already significantly reduced following the unseasonable winter weather, availability is now very low,” Weir adds.
“Spanish tomatoes are refusing to colour up. Market prices of all varieties for those without contracts are high.
“With peppers also struggling to reach the appropriate colour levels, growers are faced with the tough decision of harvesting fruit without the full colouration levels, or risk leaving on the plant which could lead to rot.”
The Netherlands is helping to plug some gaps left by low volume from Spain but it’s not enough to entirely replace quantities, according to Weir.
“Reynolds has taken the decision to relax specifications around colour levels to assist growers through the difficult period.
“No issues are being seen with courgettes, aubergines or cucumbers.”
Another U.K. supplier feeling the pinch is Veg UK Ltd.
Speaking with Fresh Fruit Portal, director Julian Pitts explains supply of broccoli will remain tough for another couple of weeks.
“We are in a bit of a gap on broccoli because of the bad weather in December. Planting was halted for a period of time which has had a knock on effect and it’s still being felt now,” he says.
“We thought that salads would be affected more than they are; they are a bit, but nothing like the broccoli, because salads grow quicker than the broccoli does generally, especially the baby leaf.
“The bad weather has had more of an effect on Calabrese and we’re in a situation now where prices have increased by around a third and the supply chain, in the next week or so, is going to be limited and things will still be very difficult.”
The short supply of broccoli is exacerbated by damages to crops in Italy where growing regions were also hit by unusual weather, including snow, earlier this year.
“We supply wholesalers, caterers, processors. We also supply the retail chains through packers and we’ll supply those guys as and when they need it. We also export Spanish broccoli and we export cauliflower all across Europe and Scandinavian countries,” Pitts adds.
“We’ve been trying to give our clients as much information as possible during this period and trying to manage situations where we’re trying to get them to have a bit more than they normally would, but it’s been difficult.
“With some of the contracts we have warned customers and they have gone onto frozen. And we have also asked them to change from broccoli to Savoy cabbage or another vegetable that is not in the same situation.”
Pitts adds how Veg UK sources from several growers across the north and south of Spain, but producers in the north usually have a gap during March and April, which is not helping the shortage.
“The north of Spain generally buy from the south of Spain to carry on the contracts, so this has all had a bigger knock on effect.
"I think we still have got a couple of weeks of hardship and it depends on weather of course. The weather in the U.K. has turned from being quite warm to a bit cold, cooling off and drizzle so it’s not helping that the veg is in more demand now than it was probably a week or two ago.”