Cauliflower growers face crisis

This article is from FPJ Fresh info

Cauliflower could be in danger of becoming a niche product in the UK as growers are threatening to switch out of the crop.

Sector leaders have called for unity and tough talking with retailers after one of the worst winters for the brassica on record.

SSeveral nights of temperatures as low as –18°C in Lincolnshire in December wiped out 90 per cent of the crop leaving the marketplace for the March to May window desperately short in the UK as production in the south of England has also been affected, although to a lesser degree.

“Growers are feeling very sore and bruised from the last few months,” said Phillip Effingham, chairman of the Brassica Growers Association. “It is a classic case of market failure. There is a lot of competition among the retailers and individual packers don’t exceed 20 per cent of the market. “

Some packers are forecasting a reduction in acreage and a switch into other less risky crops. “In the long-term, acreage will be reduced for cauliflower,” one packer told freshinfo. “Producers can grow wheat and get a better guaranteed margin so I think a lot of smaller growers will move into wheat. Some will go bust this year in the UK and I really think we are looking at a situation where the market will have to plan for more imports in the future.”

Effingham does not agree completely. He said: “I don’t see any hard evidence that acreage will decline dramatically like some people are saying. It will decline, but not that much. Some of the small growers will come out of cauliflowers. But what we are seeing is a bit of a knee-jerk reaction at the moment: growers saying they are not going to plant and go into wheat instead. There is some danger of that, but we are not at the point of cauliflower becoming a niche product yet.”

Sarah Pettitt, chair of the National Farmers Union horticulture board, herself moved out of cauliflower production in Lincolnshire 12 years ago after a particularly poor season. “That year we turned our back on cauliflower for ever,” she said. “The supply chain is so volatile and growers margins are so small and the risk is so great and spread so disproportionately along the chain that I am certain that this year a number of growers will just say ‘never again’. You have to remember this is the third bad year for growers in Cornwall and for some of them, overwintered cauliflower is their mainstay.”

Criticism has also been leveled at the retailers, with packers complaining that they “just don’t want to know”.

One told freshinfo, “We’ve been told, ‘it’s your programme, if you haven’t got the product, import it. We won’t pay the difference’”.

Pettitt is calling for growers to work more together and for the NFU to facilitate that in developing a strategy for sustainable cauliflower production in the UK before it is too late

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