The head of Spain’s largest farming association has pointed to Brexit and its impact on transportation, bureaucracy and border controls as the underlying cause of the UK salad crisis, saying there has been no major drop in production among his members.
Alfonso Gálvez – who serves as general secretary of Asaja, which represents farmers in the Murcia region, said he was puzzled by media reports of weather-induced shortages.
“I’ve seen these articles but I don’t understand why they’re talking about shortages here in Spain,” he said. “Things are normal here so far this season so I don’t know if it’s more a problem of UK logistics since the Brexit regulations came into effect. There’s enough produce to supply the market and the vegetable season is happening pretty normally.”
While he acknowledged that rising costs had led to a drop in production for some growers – and frosts had affected some artichoke and lettuce crops – Gálvez said those issues were not serious or widespread enough to have significantly reduced market supplies.
The UK shortages, he suggested, may have more to do with bureaucracy and logistics than the weather.
“The sector adapted to the new [post-Brexit] export protocols set by the UK in coordination with the different ministries that are responsible,” he said. “But there have been logistics and transport problems when it comes to export, such as a shortage of lorry drivers to service the UK market, and the problems we’ve seen with the queues to get into the country through Eurotunnel.”
That, Gálvez added, may have led some export companies or cooperatives to focus more on the continental market than the UK market.
“On top of that, you’ve got the costs of all this bureaucracy and all these waits, which mean that perhaps the UK market isn’t so attractive,” he said. “But in any case, there are enough raw materials and produce to keep supplying the market.”
However, Coexphal, an association of more than 101 fruit and vegetable companies in Spain’s vast and productive Almería province, said some shortages had been caused by the mild autumn and winter temperatures giving way to a cold snap over recent weeks.
The association – whose members account for 70% of Almería’s fruit and veg exports – said tomato production was down 22% on the same period last year; cucumber production had fallen by 21%; peppers and aubergines by 25%; and courgettes by 15%.
It also said the “worrying” situation meant its members were starting to have problems fulfilling client orders.
“We weren’t expecting this because the high temperatures lasted pretty much until December, which meant production picked up speed during the first part of the season,” said Coexphal’s manager, Luis Miguel Fernández.
He said higher production costs as well as blights and viruses have further cut yields. “Our businesses are doing everything they can to deliver on their commitments, but it’s practically impossible under the circumstances.”
Although Coexphal said a rise in temperatures over the coming weeks could improve the situation, it was unclear how the plants would respond to “such a changeable climatology”.
Coexphal declined to comment on the role that the UK’s post-Brexit import protocols could be playing.
The latest fruit and veg shortages come six years after crops in southern Spain were hit by flooding, frosts and snow, leading to a prolonged scarcity of courgettes, aubergines, lettuce and celery.