High and Dry
High temperatures, low rainfall, and an ongoing labour crisis. We won’t sugarcoat it: growers have had one hell of a time.
“Barring a plague of locusts, I don’t think we could have had a worse five years,” said Edward Lindley, a farmer in Yorkshire. The food system has big problems, but we believe the small things make a difference. So what can you do?
JUST A DROP
The effects of heat damage on crops can last beyond just one growing season, though. British Apples and Pears chair Ali Capper recalls her family farm’s harvest in 1977 was “even worse” following the drought of 1976. Farmers fear that the dry ground might be too hard to sow crops for next year.
Farming groups are calling for a national water strategy, and a loosening of rules around where water can be sourced. Growers – especially those with irrigation-reliant crops – could face restrictions on water use.
You might be one of the 15 million Thames Water customers who fall under their hosepipe ban. And there are more ways to save some H₂O. From quickly fixing leaks to shaving a few minutes off your shower – “everybody making small changes can make a huge difference overall,” reported The Guardian.
CURVY VEG AHEAD
High temps coupled with low rainfall has created less-than-ideal growing conditions for many crops, with such staples as potatoes, carrots, and apples likely to be hardest hit.
What might that mean? Some say to expect lower yields and smaller sizes. But no one really knows what veg currently in the ground will end up looking like, according to our own sourcing team.
The National Farmers’ Union is asking retailers to relax their standards around selling “misshapen” produce. And some major supermarkets are heeding the call. “Whilst the crop coming out may look and feel a bit different to what we’re all used to, it’s still the same great British quality,” said Ryan McDonnell, chief executive at Lidl. Waitrose is expanding size and shape guidelines for their “A Little Less Than Perfect” range. (unrealistic expectations about appearance apply to fruit and veg as well).
“In the past few years supermarkets have been congratulating themselves because of the amount of ‘wonky veg’ that they have sold,” wrote Ged Futter, a food retail consultant. “What they forget is that it is only because of their ultra tight specifications that this ‘wonky veg’ exists”.
So embrace the “imperfections”. Knobbly, bent, curvy and crooked. Just the way Mother Nature intended.
PETER PIPER PICKED
To add to the pile, there are still plenty of crops that need to be harvested from fields. It’s a people problem. There are not enough to pick, pack and process.
“Every crop is valuable – to the farm business and to the people whose plates they fill,” said Tom Bradshaw, deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union. “We simply can’t afford to be leaving food unpicked.”
Farmer Tim Young is giving away more than 140,000 onions to whoever is able to pick them from his Norfolk farm. “We have never had a situation where we knowingly had to leave good onions out there in the field, so we wanted to make it available to people to come and help themselves,” he said.
While the labour crisis is far from resolved, volunteer pickers – aka gleaners – have been doing their bit. A bunch of gleaners collected over 1,000 kilos of fruit in Kent last month for food banks. Interested? Find a local group via the Gleaning Network’s map.
We’ve been getting in on the gleaning action ourselves, joining volunteers with food charity The Felix Project to pick tonnes of plums. “I’m stoked that we could help these delicious fruits find a happy home,” said our very own Jordan Fleming.