Buy shrunken, wonky vegetables, consumers told, as drought hits crops

·2 min read
Red potatoes recently dug up in a field - Jessica Damiano/AP
Red potatoes recently dug up in a field - Jessica Damiano/AP

Shoppers need to be prepared to buy wonky vegetables, farmers have said, amid fears about the ongoing drought ravaging British crops.

An official drought has been declared across 14 areas of England, and experts have raised concerns about the UK’s food supply as large swathes of agricultural land are left yellowing in the dry conditions.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has urged British shoppers to “pull together” and accept buying wonky vegetables, as the drought threatens to produce shrunken onions and potatoes which might not ordinarily meet with supermarket quality standards

Tom Bradshaw, the NFU’s deputy president, has warned that the extremely dry conditions are likely to affect the aesthetics of other staples like cauliflower and parsnips.

He told The Telegraph: “Consumers need to have a bit more flexibility because potatoes might be a bit smaller, onions might be a little bit smaller.

“And that’s still the case of everyone just needing to pull together a little bit to accept that it’s not been a perfect time.”

Mr Bradshaw warned that there will likely be issues with “your carrots, your parsnips”, adding: “Then you’ve got your broccoli, your cauliflower, they’re all being impacted at the moment by their growing conditions.

“There isn’t anything which is not impacted if it’s grown in a field that isn’t irrigated.”

The lack of rainfall in these non-irrigated fields has placed stress on the crops that are yet to be harvested, which will likely affect the size of the vegetables that survive the drought. There are fears that a large proportion may not, and that yields will be down this year.

‘Supermarkets will have to decide’

Mr Bradshaw has said that he expects supermarkets to be more flexible in their criteria for acceptable vegetables, allowing shelves to be filled with products in unusual shapes and sizes, should the autumn harvest yield wonky vegetables.

He said: “Once we know what the quality will be, that’s when the supermarket will have to decide.

“And I think they will do everything they can to minimise wastage, because during this cost of living crisis, they don’t want to be seen to be contributing to the problem.

“So I think that they will do everything they can just to have that flexibility.”

While Mr Bradshaw is confident that both shopper and retailers will be flexible on the likely crop of aesthetically atypical vegetables, he has raised concern that the UK’s livestock is swiftly eating through its stock of fodder, with growing conditions making it difficult to replace the lost feed.

This could create added costs to farmers having to buy feed from further afield. Mr Bradshaw said: “The very real risk is that some might decide that they need to sell some of their cattle before the winter because they haven’t got enough feed to feed them through the winter months.”