UK farmers count cost as heatwave kills fruit and vegetable crops

Fears of future threats to food security if more extreme heat caused by climate crisis hits production

The UK heatwave has caused fruit and vegetables to die on the vine as growers fear the drought and further hot temperatures could ruin harvests this year.

Fruit and vegetable suppliers have been counting their losses after record temperatures in July caused crops to fail.

There are fears that future hot summers could affect Britain’s food security as growers experience the impacts of the climate crisis.

“It’s not just fruit – we lost entire plantings of peas, entire sowings of broad beans, things like baby spinach was lost, salad heads were lost,” said Vernon Mascarenhas, who runs the fruit and vegetable wholesaler Nature’s Choice at New Covent Garden Market in London.

He faced a shortage of berries because the heat had simply cooked them.


“We are in the height of our berry season, and we didn’t pick quite a lot of fruit during that week. There were major difficulties. The fruit is now coming back but if there is more intense heat forecast, that would be a worry.

“When we had our flowering season we didn’t have any frosts so we were very excited, we thought we were going to have our best year ever, one of our top fruit seasons, but now we don’t know because the heat has killed some of it off.

“If we are going to get another impact of hot weather, we could be in real trouble.”

Mascarenhas is also concerned that the apple and pear crop will be harmed by the hotter, drier summer.

“I would worry about the apples and pears in August if we have further heatwaves. We will still get the fruit but it will be much smaller, it won’t have grown. It could be slightly more acidic because in the last growth spurt is where the sugars develop.”

But Mascarenhas said there was a small upside: “The sunny, warm temperatures mean we can grow fruit which previously could not be grown to a commercially viable level in this country. I will soon have my first apricots for sale, for example.”

Shoppers will see smaller berries on the shelves as they have ripened faster in the heat. The British Berry Growers chairman, Nick Marston, said: “With increased and sustained heat, generally yields will be a bit lower as berries ripen faster and don’t quite make the same size as if the berries were left to grow longer.”

Suppliers and supermarkets are not hit by these losses as they have already signed contracts with the growers, but farmers will be financially hit if they lose crops.

Sugar beet and maize crops are also in danger from the recent dry spell, and farmers are also concerned about the viability of root vegetables.

Sign up to First Edition, our free daily newsletter – every weekday morning at 7am BST

Tom Bradshaw, the deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “The impacts of this prolonged spell of dry weather are hugely challenging for many farms across the country and causing concern for all farming sectors.

“The lack of rain means crops such as sugar beet and maize are showing signs of stress, while there are challenges for farmers needing to irrigate field veg and potatoes. To help, the Environment Agency has launched measures to support flexible abstraction and this will potentially give some farmers the ability to trade volumes of water with other farmers.

“The dry weather has also severely hampered grass growth which could hit feed supplies for the winter, adding additional costs to livestock farming businesses at a time when costs are continuing to increase significantly.

“With the forecast predicting more dry weather in the coming weeks, we will continue to monitor for any impacts on UK food production.”


Helena Horton Environment reporter

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Heatwave pushes up UK fruit and vegetable prices as yields fall
Farmers are struggling to raise crops, which stop growing in temperatures above 25C

Sarah Butler

27, Jul, 2018 @3:23 PM

Article image
Food prices set to rise in UK as floods ruin crops
Soaring prices likely as potatoes rot in sodden fields and farmers struggle to sow wheat

Zoe Wood

15, Nov, 2019 @6:20 PM

Article image
More fruit and veg shortages to come as weather in UK and Spain hits crops
Record heat in southern Europe and chilly start to British growing season spell more misery for shoppers

Julia Kollewe and Joanna Partridge

28, Apr, 2023 @4:40 PM

Article image
Salsify: Waitrose brings back 'forgotten' Victorian vegetable
Stocking of root vegetable popular with C19th cooks part of demand for traditional produce

Angela Monaghan

09, Nov, 2018 @3:08 PM

Article image
Heatwave boosts staff hiring by farmers and manufacturers
Surging demand for summer food such as lettuce and ice cream and barbecue charcoal leading some to work 24-hour shifts

Sarah Butler

17, Jul, 2013 @6:22 PM

Article image
Kiwi wars: the golden fruit fuelling a feud between New Zealand and China
One firm’s attempt to regain control of illegal cultivation shows Wellington’s lack of leverage over its largest trade partner

Tess McClure in Wellington

18, Jun, 2021 @8:00 PM

Article image
Prices fall as UK heatwave produces glut of soft fruit
Yields of cherries, strawberries and blueberries could more than double on the same time last year

Sarah Butler

22, Jul, 2022 @4:16 PM

Article image
Extreme weather could push UK food prices up this year, say farmers
Crops are wilting in parched fields, lowering the yields of kitchen staples including meat, wheat, potatoes, onions and milk

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

30, Jul, 2018 @10:24 AM

Article image
Lidl makes 'fruit and veg pledge' to back British farmers
German discounter joins rival Aldi in signing up to farmers’ union-backed code that aims to boost profitability of suppliers

Sarah Butler

20, Jun, 2016 @5:03 PM

Article image
Reach ‘peak meat’ by 2030 to tackle climate crisis, say scientists
Reducing meat and dairy consumption will cut methane and allow forests to thrive

Damian Carrington Environment editor

12, Dec, 2019 @6:21 AM