Extreme weather events brought about by climate change are putting supplies of potatoes and other fruit and vegetables at risk, new report has warned.
Drought and extreme heat saw potato yields drop 20 per cent in 2018, with the conditions leading to smaller average sizes.
Analysis from The Climate Coalition says that as climate change intensifies, the UK could lose almost three-quarters of the area of land currently well suited for potatoes by 2050s.
Lee Abbey, head of horticulture at the NFU, said: “A lot of growers will have come out of this year with sore heads and not much income.
Farmers and growers are used to dealing with fluctuations in the weather but if we have two or three extreme years in a row it has the potential to put growers out of business.”
The report draws on research by the Priestley International Centre for Climate and says the UK can expect more frequent extreme weather events - including longer-lasting and more intense heatwaves, and a one-in-three chance of record-breaking rainfall hitting parts of England each winter.
Last summer’s heatwave was made about 30 times more likely by climate change, according to the Met Office.
Potato yields were down on average 20 per cent in England and Wales in 2018 compared to the previous season.Carrots (yields reportedly down 25-30 per cent) and onions (reportedly down 40 per cent) were also hampered in 2018 by warmer than average temperatures.
Richard Thompson, a potato grower from Staffordshire, said: “Yields were down 20-25 per cent [in 2018].
“We also had quality issues with a lot of misshapen and small potatoes. I will be reducing my acreage next year because I cannot afford to take the risk of planting more potatoes.”
An NFU survey of members found half had been affected by a severe climatic event, such as flooding, in the past 10 years.
The NFU recently announced its aspiration for UK farming to become net zero in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.
Defra Secretary Michael Gove said: “High-quality, locally-grown fruit and veg are a crucial component of British diets. Yet, as we saw with last year’s drought, this nutritious food, and the livelihoods of the hard-working farmers who grow it, are increasingly threatened by more extreme weather and increased pests and diseases as a result of climate change.
"We will use powers in the Agriculture Bill to reward farmers who reduce their emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change through our new Environmental Land Management scheme.”
The report, Recipe for disaster: climate change threatens British-grown fruit and veg, is being published as part of The Climate Coalition Show The Love campaign which celebrates things the UK loves but could lose to climate change.