Fruit and veg both at 
risk in sodden fields

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The sun may have shone on Yorkshire’s farms this week but those growing fruit and vegetables are already counting the cost of one of the worst growing periods on record.

Potato harvests alone could be reduced by as much as 20 per cent after parts of the country received 250 per cent more rainfall than average and hours of sunshine well below their normal levels.

April and June were officially the wettest on record with cereal producers now hoping the good weather holds to ensure harvests are not ruined.

However the focus is now on horticulture which is feeling the effects too, with potato farmers in particular anxiously awaiting what the next few weeks will bring in terms of rainfall and sunshine.

Weather throughout 2012 has made potato production very difficult.

From severe frosts in February, high winds in the spring damaging plants and then the heavy rain of recent months flooding fields and leaving crops susceptible to disease.

“Many soils are so wet that many growers are now having trouble travelling with a sprayer, so that blight spraying is getting behind,” a spokesman said.

“Unless the weather improves soon, potato blight might prove difficult to control. The wet soil conditions will also affect the ability to harvest potatoes.”

Barry Mulholland, head of horticulture at agricultural and environmental consultancy Adas, said: “The weather effect has been two-fold. Production has been very difficult and demand has been reduced. Producers are having difficulties getting their crops established, harvested or applying pesticides because of the amount of water in their fields.

“This has been aggravated because the usual pattern of demand for summer fruits and salad has been suppressed by the unseasonable weather.

“Major summer events, such as the Jubilee and Wimbledon, did not create the expected demand.”

Adas says yields of apples and pears were reduced by the cold wet weather during blossoming, leading to reduced fruit number. However, as most strawberry and raspberry crops for fresh market outlets are grown under protection by polytunnels the supply of good quality fruit has not been reduced.

The wet early July has lead to significant problems for many producers who cannot get onto land to harvest or to plant. This will interfere with continuity of supply to retailers.

Several crop diseases, such as ringspot, and pests, particularly slugs, have thrived in the wet conditions and wet ground has made application of pesticides difficult. Flooding has decimated some salad and field vegetable crops both by damaging plants and contamination by soil.

Demand for vegetables, which are normally cooked, is stronger than usual for this time of year because of the cooler weather. Since supplies have been affected by poor weather returns, growers who are able to supply have benefited slightly through small increases in retail prices.