Riverford founder and organic grower Guy Singh-Watson has warned that a no-deal Brexit will increase the gap in crop availability from March to May.
He told reporters that the availability of many UK grown organic crops such as kale, cabbage, greens, cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, swedes, apples, onions and potatoes all come to an end in March, while the harvest of new-season produce does not start until mid-May.
“For 30 years, Riverford has struggled with this reality – we even suspend our UK-only veg box from March to June because we often cannot find eight UK-grown items to put in it,” said Mr Singh-Watson. “While at Riverford, we import 30 per cent of our produce in the fallow March-May period, as a nation, we import about 50 per cent of our fruit and vegetables. And that figure starts to rise in the New Year, reaching about 80 per cent in April before falling again in June.
“If there was a “best time for a no-deal Brexit”, it would be July to September, as any gardener could tell our politicians. Were we to leave without a deal there couldn’t be a worse time than March 29, unless you like woody swedes and sprouting potatoes!” To fill gaps in UK production Riverford has established partnerships with small-scale organic suppliers in Spain, France, Italy and further afield.2
Photo Caption: Riverford already suspends sales of its UK-only veg box from March until June.
Photo Credit: Riverford
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Most fruit imported into the UK comes from outside the European Union (60 per cent), whereas the EU is the main source of imported vegetables data shows.
Over the last three years total imports of fruit and veg have risen by 12 per cent. The biggest supplier of fruit to the UK is Spain at 679,523 tonnes of fresh fruit, followed by South Africa and Costa Rica with 346,359 and 303,221 tonnes respectively.
Spain is also the largest supplier of vegetables to the UK supplying 1.01 million tonnes, closely followed by The Netherlands at 744,239 tonnes. Between them these two horticultural powerhouses supply 64 per cent of UK vegetable imports. Tomatoes are one of the main imports, and while the volume of potatoes and carrots fell last year, legumes increased by 55 per cent.
Tesco says that a new initiative to remove a food packing stage in the journey from farm to fork will mean that customers will benefit from salads and citrus fruit that will stay fresh for up to two extra days.
The foods covered by the initiative include imported lettuce; tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, broccoli and celery. As part of its ongoing programme to tackle food waste Tesco looked at its supply chain to identify ways of working directly with producers to speed up the process by which freshly picked produce arrives in store. It found that as a result of advancements in packing and storage it was now possible to ship produce directly from European suppliers to Tesco stores, cutting the amount of time spent in transit which means getting produce to customers faster, and therefore fresher.
Tesco Group Food Commercial Director Matt Simister said, “For millions of our customers this move will mean having up to an extra two days in which to enjoy some of the most popular fruit and vegetables. The extra days of freshness will particularly benefit customers who are pressed for time and will mean they are less likely to throw away food.”