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Light at the end of the rain tunnel?

19/07/2012

Cancelled events, flash floods and mud, mud, mud are the themes of ‘Summer’ 2012.  Sunshine and warmth have felt very distant for absolutely everyone in the UK, with the impact of this year’s weather being very far-reaching.

From a veg perspective, just take a look at the sad state of any keen gardener’s allotment. Use the health, vitality and growth of their runner bean plants as a barometer. This has been a poor old year for field vegetables so far.

Crops that should have strong UK-grown retail presence right now, like broccoli, are in very short supply from usual sources. There simply isn’t any great volume of UK stock available. Whilst we’d look to Spain for stocks of broccoli as back-up, their supplies have run short too. Air freighted broccoli from the US is on shelf in the UK right now in some stores.

Our domestic veg crop is very behind where it should be, with some crops not just delayed but damaged as well. Growers are finding themselves increasingly under pressure financially as a result – relying on cash income from harvest to offset borrowing that accumulates through the year. There’s a tentative forecast of sunshine from next week which may mean that some crops can be salvaged. It’s not just the development of the plants and crop that’s been the problem – it’s the practical issues such as accessing waterlogged fields for essentials such as spraying and harvest.

Protected crops

There are lots more polytunnels around these days to protect our crops, but the land is still sitting spectacularly heavy underneath and many tunnel crops are suffering just as much. Light levels have been atrocious this year, so crop development has been very badly delayed.
Glasshouse crops have suffered too. Even with the luxury of the protected environment, without the natural light, crops have been slow and yields are well down on where you’d expect them to be.

A rather gloomy spud forecast

Potato crops are a particularly complex part of this picture and you really have to feel for spud farmers given this update from Mr Veg. He’s noted that wet soil conditions have led to issues with rotting roots. Depending on geography, this can be anything from a minor problem through to complete loss of plants.

Yield and overall size will undoubtedly be down, even if the sun shines through August as the healthy plant root system will be locked in the upper, drier layers of soil, unable to access the moisture beneath.

Blight pressure is causing great concern, particularly in organic potato crops at the moment. Regular treatments have to be applied to counter this, but that involves accessing the fields with heavy equipment and is causing huge ruts in some fields which are going to slow down the process of harvesting. Gas burners are often used to help with blight by burning off crops, but in wet weather this has been troublesome too!

Poor emergence in some seedstocks and incidences of blackleg (bacterial disease) are likely to threaten volumes of seedstock for next season.

There are a number of areas and varieties that should be harvesting now, but you can’t harvest spuds when it’s raining. When you can get out to pull the crop there’s so much mud on the harvester and grader that progress is frustratingly slow. The wet conditions are also producing a greater proportion of rots in the spuds harvested so far.

It’s not all bad though – Mr Veg has a wry sense of humour, and has pronounced that on the plus side, there’s been little need to irrigate.

So, the current forecast is looking tentatively good for the end of July, and possibly into August. We’re not counting our courgettes before they’re picked, but please spare a thought for the plight of veg farmers who’re still staring forlornly at soggy soil and rather empty bank accounts.

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