Extreme weather conditions in continental Europe, from snow to frost and torrential rain, are impacting some supplies of lettuce and other fresh vegetables to the retail and foodservice sectors in the UK and Ireland.
The adverse weather conditions are likely to significantly increase the price of vegetables across northern Europe. One supplier said that a combination of flooding, cold weather and poor light levels had created a "perfect storm" of poor growing conditions. Courgettes and lettuces are likely to be much more pricey, one supplier said.
Floods in Spain's south-eastern Murcia region combined with cold weather in Italy has meant that many field crops such as lettuce and broccoli have been nearly wiped out,
Salad leaves are predominately sourced from the Mediterranean from October onwards, due to the usually favourable growing climate. However, since December 2016, severe weather conditions in Spain have led to massive implications for growers, with up to four weeks of planting being lost and huge amounts of existing crops being destroyed.
John McCann, Managing Director of Ireland’s largest bagged salad processor Willowbrook Foods, has been on site in the Murcia region of Spain for the past week, working hand in hand with growers through the crisis.
“The soil and climate in Murcia is normally ideal for growing all crops in the winter months, but is especially suited to lettuce production. Yet for the past two months, the region has had catastrophic natural extremes of climate to deal with, resulting in severe shortages and farmers facing 80% irreparable crop damage,”he explains.
Climate problems began with severe drought and shortage of irrigation water in the Autumn, which caused plants to die. Heavy, continual rain following this led to floods. Describing the scene from Spain, John continues: “I have witnessed first-hand the devastation of these floods, which have washed away planted crops and turned fields into lakes. Mud has washed over level fields with crop, and those fields due to be planted, have become rivers of mud.
Philippe Binard, of Freshfel Europe, a forum based in Brussels that represents the fresh produce industry, told the BBC that the problems afflicting vegetable production were unprecedented, with the yield of courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes, broccoli and peppers from Spain down by about 25%, while prices had risen between 25% and 40%.
"There has been a dramatic loss of production not only in Murcia but also in the Spanish regions of Andalusia and Valencia. All this has come at a time of heavy snowfall in Italy," he said.
A spokesman for the British supermarket Tesco said that the bad weather conditions in Spain had resulted "in a few availability issues".