Fears of a UK Christmas tree shortage are unfounded © 123RF
Fears of a UK Christmas tree shortage are unfounded © 123RF

Christmas shortages - the facts

9 December 2016

News stories about seasonal shortages in the run up to Christmas seem to be old as yuletide itself.

This year headlines have sounded the alarm about a dearth of Christmas trees, brussels sprouts and even cream and cheese.

But do the facts match the frenzy? We take a look at each of these cases to analyse whether there is likely to be a steady supply of Christmas essentials.

Christmas trees

One media headline predicted that moist, warm conditions across Britain could have created a shortage of top quality Christmas trees for the market. 

The conditions were said to have made popular Nordman firs grow too fast and this, along with bouts of fungus and disease, has drastically reduced supply.

The reality, according to Harry Brightwell, secretary of the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, is that 2016 is expected to be a good year for British tree growers.

While it is true that conditions were unfavourable for Christmas tree growth in some areas of southern England, this has not been the case in the UK as a whole.

Much of the country has enjoyed ideal weather for tree growth. 

And a disease, current season needle necrosis (CSNN), which has damaged foliage in years such as 2012, appears not to have made an impact in 2016.

“I’ve had no reports of it at all this year,” said Brightwell.

Most of all the relatively weak sterling means imported Christmas trees from countries like Denmark and Belgium are relatively more expensive for British consumers, which has favoured trees grown in the UK.

The opposite effect was at work last year, when the pound was relatively strong against the euro.

Brussel sprouts

Fears that Christmas dinners could end up missing one of their most essential side dishes, brussel sprouts, also seem groundless. 

Media warnings that sprout supply could be a “nightmare” in the run up to Christmas after crops were devastated by a pesticide-resistant moth over summer, coupled with warm temperatures in the Netherlands, should be taken with a pinch of salt.

“Sprouts supplies are tight for 2016 but most of the major suppliers will be managing this situation with their customers,” said chair of the Brassica Growers Association Matthew Rawson.

Sprout buttons are smaller than at the same time last year, which will contribute to reduced yields.

This means 1.5 acres will have to be harvested to gain the equivalent tonnage to one acre last year. However, the association is not predicting a shortage of the vegetable.

Cheese

One area where shortages could really strike home is in the dairy industry, with butter, cream and cheese likely to be affected.

NFU dairy board chairman Michael Oakes expressed fears the diary industry had cut production in response to long-term low prices and that this could lead to shortages in cheese production, possibly after Christmas.

“We have long warned that unsustainable farmgate prices would lead to reduced production and in turn less choice for consumers of high-quality British dairy products,” he said. “Manufacturers will do their upmost to ensure British milk and other fresh dairy products, such as cream and butter, will be on retail shelves this Christmas but this may mean moving milk away from cheese production, which will impact on future cheese availability. 

And while milk prices have recently started to rise, Oakes added it would “take more than a few milk price increases to instil confidence back into the sector”.

“This situation is not beneficial to farmers or the public so we need to find better ways of managing volatility for the benefit of all to ensure we see great British, Red Tractor-assured dairy products on shelves for the long-term future.”

Finally, no Christmas would be complete without a supply crunch affecting that season’s most in-demand toy, which this year is Hatchimals.

The interactive robotic birds, which hatch out of an egg, have a recommended retail price of £60 but have started popping up online for between £98 and £121. 

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