Unpredictable and extreme weather conditions caused by climate change, such as last year’s summer heatwave, have drastically reduced fruit and vegetable yields, said a report.
The report, by the Climate Coalition, found that on average potato yields in England and Wales had dropped by 20% in 2018, making it the fourth smallest harvest since 1960. Extreme weather conditions, including excessive water and heat, left potatoes substantially smaller than usual, meaning the average chip has lost more than 1in in length.
Carrot and onion yields were also impacted by higher than average temperatures in 2018, falling by 30% and 40% respectively. A warmer winter and late frosts also led to apple growers losing around 25% of harvests in 2017.
The report warned that due to climate change UK farmers can expect more frequent extreme weather conditions, including longer, intense heatwaves and record levels of rainfall in the winter. According to the report, the summer heatwave experienced last year was up to 30 times more likely due to climate change.
Lee Abbey, head of horticulture at the National Farmers’ Union (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.”
As more than half of all UK farms claimed to have been impacted by a severe climatic event such as flooding or a storm in the past 10 years, the Climate Coalition has called for urgent reductions of carbon emissions and food waste.
The report comes as the NFU set out its ambition for UK farming to become net zero in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. Between 2014-17, uptake on renewable energy by NFU members grew from more than a quarter of farmers and growers to nearly two-fifths (39%).
Secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs Michael Gove said he recognised climate change poses a real threat to fruits and vegetables grown in the UK and the livelihoods of the farmers that grow them, adding that the new Agriculture Bill would reward farmers who reduce their emissions.
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