Excessive rain and very cold temperatures have hit fruit and vegetable growers. But summer fruits are still set for a bumper crop
Life’s little treats don’t come much more satisfying than dipping the lightly steamed tip of the first asparagus of the season into the yolk of a soft-boiled egg.
Sadly, this spring’s wacky weather has delayed such indulgences – air-freighted, all-year asparagus from Peru just doesn’t offer the same frisson of anticipation – and it has led growers to announce that there will be a two-week delay to the traditional start of the season at the beginning of May.
But asparagus is not the only vegetable (or fruit) that has been affected. Other crops are also struggling from the vagaries of the weather.
Don Vaughan, a senior fruit adviser at Brogdale Farm, the home of the national fruit collection based in Kent, says temperature is crucial for the “setting” of fruit trees, such as apples and pears: “The cool April has had a significant effect on bloom development. It might even lead to pollination being aborted in some locations. It’s still early days to tell if harvests will be affected, though. If it quickly turns warm again, we might be OK, but I can’t remember a spring like it.”
British Summer Fruits, a trade association that represents 90% of the berry growers in the UK, says its members have worked hard to safeguard their crops.
“Twenty years ago the summer strawberry crop would have been decimated by the recent inclement weather, but thanks to two decades of investment in protection from the elements, the entire crop is safe,” says its chairman Laurence Olins.
In fact, the combination of a warm March and wet April means the overall berry crop is actually expected to be 10% up on last year.
The supermarket chain Sainsbury’s says that its diverse network of UK suppliers means that it hasn’t experienced any major disruption to supplies. But to beat the inclement weather, it says it has been forced to use daffodil farmers from Cornwall to Scotland to maintain supplies. It says it does the same throughout the year to keep its shelves stocked with broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
However, it is possibly garden centres that deserve most sympathy. The Garden Centre Association says sales of plants are currently down 30%, with would-be gardeners forced to stare out of their windows instead of getting their hands muddy.
“Everything has ground to a halt,” says its chief executive Phil Slinger. “On the plus side, garden centre cafes are reporting a roaring trade.”