While the UK Christmas carrot supply is likely to make it to the nation’s dinner plates uninterrupted, it could be a different story in spring.
Carrots are the nation’s favourite vegetable, with a special place on the Christmas dinner plate. And a healthy 75 per cent of Britons say they regularly eat carrots, with 957,000 tonnes grown in the UK every year.
British Carrot Growers’ Association chairman Rodger Hobson of Hobson Farming, near York, grows 365ha of carrots for the food manufacturing sector so does not see the same peak in Christmas demand as farmers growing for the fresh market. “For fresh carrot growers there is a massive spike – about triple what you would expect in a normal week. Packing plants are working around the clock.”
The UK is the fifth largest carrot grower in the world after China, Russia, USA and Uzbekistan, says Mr Hobson. “We have the perfect climate for carrots. You can dig them every day of the year.”
This year has been a good one in terms of carrot quality and yield. Mr Hobson says: “There has been a lack of blemishes and disease. Last year was the driest since 1976 and they were ribby and mis-shapen. This year they taste just right.”
However, wet conditions over the last couple of months have made harvesting challenging and there are now fears some of the UK crop destined for spring lifting could be lost due to frost damage.
“In main carrot growing areas such as Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Shropshire and Lancashire there has been colossal rainfall since September, meaning waterlogged fields. Harvesting has been a real struggle and we will lose some through not being able to harvest. However, harvesting machinery has got a lot better with tracked harvesters.”
While this is not expected to affect supplies for the Christmas market, wet ground conditions are preventing straw spreading on crops, necessary to prevent frost damage, which could lead to shortages in March and April.
“We should have finished strawing by now – usually it is done by Bonfire Night but only two-thirds of UK crops have been strawed so far [Dec 6].”
Coral Russell, from the British Carrot Growers’ Association, adds: “The growers are sitting on a wing and a prayer and hoping that we get a dry weather spell to be able to put down straw to protect the crop.”
Only growers in East Anglia and Scotland have escaped the poor ground conditions, she adds. “If we have a frost now or more wet weather, then all the carrots that are not covered with straw will get damaged and be unsuited for the market. They’ll be rotten.”
Source: British Carrot Growers' Association
There are two basic harvesting systems in use, which have their different merits based on the crop and time of year: