It wasn’t a crafty plan, however Thérèse Coffey sparked extra curiosity in turnips than anybody since Blackadder when she steered that folks may eat them as an alternative of tomatoes.
The atmosphere secretary’s response to salad shortages attracted extra ridicule than Baldrick – even from Vladimir Putin, who steered final week that sanctions in opposition to Russia had backfired on the west. Turnips are good however they’ll in all probability need to get them from us, he mentioned.
Putin’s remarks had a skinny veneer of reality. Though Coffey mentioned folks ought to “cherish” specialist British produce, she appeared unaware that Britain’s largest turnip grower was in her constituency – and had stopped rising them months earlier.
AW Mortier, close to Alderton in Suffolk, had a close to monopoly on the few turnips obtainable in supermarkets however gave up in September final 12 months due to shops’ unwillingness to pay increased costs to make up for rising prices of vitality and fertiliser.
“It simply wasn’t value them doing it,” mentioned Andrew Thorogood, the managing director of S Thorogood and sons, a number one wholesaler that specialises in conventional English fruit and greens.
“They have been tied into all of the supermarkets, and being tied down terribly. The open-market value is far increased than the supermarkets are ready to pay – that’s fairly a traditional factor nowadays.”
He mentioned there have been “two or three” different growers who served impartial retailers and eating places. “Most of our turnips now come from both these two or three growers or France. We import in all probability 70 or 80% of our product from France, and an increasing number of from Spain and Portugal.”
Regardless of their bitter style and punchline standing, turnips had made a minor comeback in the previous couple of years, Thorogood mentioned. “They’re very helpful in Asian cooking. It retains its consistency.” However imports of mooli – an extended, white radish – had been changing turnips, he mentioned.
Farmers aren’t solely chopping again on turnips – they’re devoting much less land to potatoes, leeks and brassicas, with some decreasing acreage by 25%.
Andrew Burgess, chair of the Nationwide Farmers’ Union organics discussion board, mentioned the fee disaster would imply that the proportion of produce grown within the UK – presently about 60% – would fall. “Our degree of self-sufficiency goes to be in all probability the bottom ever recorded, in all probability under 50% this 12 months. That’s fairly scary when you concentrate on geopolitics in the meanwhile.”
Thorogood mentioned that UK supermarkets insist on long-term contracts, which implies that growers don’t get any profit when costs go up however have to soak up prices comparable to fertiliser and vitality. French and German supermarkets set costs for growers each Thursday, so costs rise when crops are briefly provide, he mentioned.
Supermarkets in France have been charging €3.50 for a cauliflower final week, he mentioned. “A cauliflower in Aldi in Chelmsford was 88p. When everyone seems to be combating their payments, they appear like the nice guys. However they’re crucifying the producer base.”
Will Golding, a farmer in Lancashire, mentioned he stopped rising turnips a while in the past. His electrical energy invoice had risen from £50,000 to £125,000.
“We’re a small household farm,” he mentioned. “We’re kicking and screaming to get an additional penny a pack.”
Final 12 months, Maintain, the alliance of meals and farming organisations, discovered that farmers have been making lower than a penny in revenue, which its director of sustainable farming, Vicki Hird, mentioned confirmed that the UK’s meals system was “now not match for function”.
“We have to transition for climate- and nature-friendly farming, and farmers can’t try this in the event that they’re not getting correct rewards,” she mentioned.
Defra didn’t touch upon whether or not Coffey knew that Mortiers had stopped rising turnips. A spokesperson mentioned UK growers have been “essential to the resilience of our meals system”, and the federal government knew that farmers have been “going through world pressures, together with from the invasion of Ukraine”.
“The UK has a extremely resilient meals chain and is effectively outfitted to cope with disruption,” they mentioned.
“Our new farming schemes will assist farmers to provide meals profitably and sustainably, together with £600m in grants for gear to assist farmers develop into extra productive.
“That is a part of the numerous motion we’ve got taken to assist the sector thus far, alongside allocating 45,000 seasonal employees and wider authorities assist on vitality payments by way of the Power Payments Reduction Scheme.”