22 August 2023
A series of themed weeks on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today has continued with the programme using this week to examine salad production.
To kick off the week, they spoke with Professor Jim Monaghan, Director of the Fresh Produce Research Centre, who set out the current state of play for the sector – and the issues farmers face getting salad onto our plates.
He said: “The decisions that growers are making are about three months out from when they harvest it.
“If you think that for peak sales – which are usually end of May, June - they might be harvesting 20 million lettuce in the UK – so you have had to plan that all three months before, and you can’t plan on the old weather patterns.
“So I think the take home message is they are having to be more resilient, they are having to over-plan, and they are having to have really good relationships with their retailers, where they will cover some of that potential financial loss.”
Professor Monaghan agree that changes in weather patterns were likely to hit production not only in the UK, but across Europe, and added: “I am not a climate scientist but I trust those who are, and I think that is what is going to happen.
“We’ve been sitting here, bemoaning the cool, damp weather; you didn’t have to go that far, and you are into good lettuce growing areas in Southern France, Spain, Italy, where they have been having record high temperatures - where it would not be possible to be growing the crops.”
And while he noted the growing potential of vertical farming – with salad now on sale being grown in vertical farms – he added that, at present, it was not going to be able to meet the capacity of farmers currently growing outdoors.
He added: “Energy costs recently have really been super challenging for vertical farming business. There are some really good businesses that are developing and I see that you can now get some vertically farmed bag salads on major retailers’ shelves.
“I’m not convinced, yet, that they can pick up the volumes that you’re talking about from the big lettuce growers we have in the East of England, we have around Shropshire and also up in Southport in Lancashire – as they get their sunlight for free.
“Admittedly, they also get their rainfall for free – and that’s not what they always want!”