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The organic fruit and vegetable market in Wales
Ben Pratt, Organic Fresh Food Company October 2013After a great growing season many are heading into the winter in good spirits. The welcome cold weather has slowed some lines down although some growers have been caught out and some produce hasn't always been able to find a home. There is a definite concern that after a few months where all brassicas were ready at the same time there might still be some shortages going forward.
The rise in popularity of Halloween continues apace and pumpkin sales have been the best that we can remember (despite some incredibly cheap product in the multiples). Unlike last year squashes are storing well and should hold for the coming months. Jerusalem artichokes and PSB are now starting to come through and supply seems very good.
With the Soil Association reporting an increase in demand and the weather, to a certain extent, co-operating; what a difference a year makes.
Ben Pratt, Organic Fresh Food Company July 2013Amazing how things change so quickly. Such a warm month has led to a real surge in production with successional plantings for many all coming ready at the same time. There is a real bounty for both professional and home growers. As always seems to happen as production hit full speed, demand drops away a little as people go on holiday! That said it is a real delight to see the variety of produce coming through and the expense and stress of the hungry gap drawing to a close.
Courgettes and marrows have been coming so fast with some growers experiencing yields up fifty percent on predicted. Unfortunately (or fortunately) this is being experienced by many and the sheer volume of produce being offered throughout the country means there is significant downward pressure on pricing with almost daily changes. Finding a home for all that is produced has proved challenging and some growers are ploughing in. In contrast tomato growers are feeling the effect of cold nights eight weeks ago with a lot of fruit but very little ripening and there appears to be shortages throughout the country.
The continued unpredictable nature of the weather, whether it be hot or cold, wet or dry, is all that anyone seems to be talking about!
Ben Pratt, Organic Fresh Food Company May 2013A couple of days of warm weather have really pushed things on. The first strawberries of the year have arrived, the first broad beans within a week whilst all the other tunnel crops continue to storm ahead. The first potatoes are being dug in Cornwall whilst Pembrokeshire is still a few weeks off – with ware stock practically non-existent prices and demand will be high. Asparagus has begun in earnest – supply has been limited from the borders and some challenging weather around the end of the month has set them back a little.
Over the past year most of the talk has been about the rise of localism and its replacement of organic in the buying choices of many consumers. Meeting with a number of new customers this month we have seen a small shift. Although local is still very important, organic has now been grouped with many of the 'free from' diets – ie gluten free, wheat free, dairy free – and is enjoying increased demand from within that sector. This growth stills keeps organic in the niche market but at least the net is being cast a little wider.
The organic fruit and vegetable market in Wales
Ben Pratt, Organic Fresh Food Company April 2013This past month has been a real mixture – full of hope for the season ahead but a fair deal of despair as stores really do run dry. The blast of warmer weather we have had in the past few weeks has pushed forward many lines in the tunnels. Spinach, chards, lettuces, pac choi, spring onions, salads – all are now available in good quantities. The elusive purple sprouting broccoli seems to come and go, sometimes lots, sometimes very little. As the only thing peeking through the snow from the winter, for many it got hit very hard. As someone suggested this morning … all this greenery is all very well but there's no real food around. Of course he was referring to the roots from stores. Carrots, beetroot, swede, parsnips – all now finished. There are still potatoes around – but limited quantities and high prices. The wait for new season Pembrokeshire potatoes will I fear push well into June.
The ones who are sitting pretty though are the apple growers. Talking to growers across throughout the UK there appears to be an air of quiet confidence about the harvest ahead. After such a terrible year last year they do deserve it.
Ben Pratt, Organic Fresh Food Company March 2013
Reading the market report and looking back at the bulletin from this time last year there is a real sense of history repeating itself. The decline of organic sales in the multiples continues to depress the market across the country. Independent retail and online appears to be the area for the most hope with both showing increased sales over the year. In light of the many food scandals of recent months, it seems it is those that are most well positioned to communicate the organic messages that are able to generate the sales.
But regardless of how small or large the market is, the weather continues to prove challenging. The cold has really slowed production and things that many would expect to be seeing coming out of the tunnels are not quite there yet. The wet winter has made it hard for growers to get onto the fields and plant and so much is running behind. New season potatoes are several weeks behind schedule and there will certainly be gaps in supply later in the summer as growers miss chances to make successive plantings now. Supplies in store from last year are starting to run very low now. The dreaded hungry gap has come earlier than it should and is expected to last longer than many would like.
Ben Pratt, Organic Fresh Food Company February 2013
Supply throughout Wales and the rest of the UK has tightened significantly in the past month as the cold weather slows what is left in the ground and stores are run down. Many have given up on the hope that leeks might one day bulk up but instead are harvesting as they are - and smaller than many would like. Most roots are still available in good volumes but potatoes supply is sure to be more problematic this time next month. That said, with longer days and better light levels, produce from the tunnels is starting to ramp up – spinach, salads, lettuce, spring onions, purslane and rocket are all available.
Ben Pratt, Organic Fresh Food Company January 2013
It's so difficult writing this bulletin without making some reference to the weather but it is the elephant in the room. The wet and then the cold had made life increasingly difficult for growers. Much noise has been made in the media about supermarkets relaxing specs in light of the poor conditions. The challenge is finding the right balance - our role as middle-men must be to manage the expectations of the consumer so that perfectly good, but perhaps not the most beautiful, produce is used. That said, whatever specification you operate to doesn't mean anything if the produce is frozen solid. The past few weeks of very cold weather has made harvesting tricky. All this make supply tighter and subsequently prices are beginning to creep up.
Ben Pratt, Organic Fresh Food Company November 2012
The very difficult year continues, and heading into the winter, the feared shortages are starting to materialise. If it somehow survived the wet and the slugs what has been left has been very slow to mature and yields remain low. Potato supply will be very tight going beyond Christmas, and so premium prices are being paid to growers to hold them in cold store.
Squash yields remain poor and keeping quality has been really quite variable. Jerusalem artichokes are just beginning but again yields are very low. Same story on sprouts as well I'm afraid. For those that have not suffered complete failure, there is rationing at the moment to ensure supply for Christmas. With broccoli quality deteriorating it is good to see purple sprouting broccoli coming through in volume – should be a week away.
At the moment the hope is just to get to Christmas. What is available has been-tasting fantastic and selling well. Despite all the challenges in the multiples, demand still seems strong. As to what happens when supply tightens further after Christmas we shall have to wait and see.
Ben Pratt, Organic Fresh Food Company September 2012
Without trying to sound terribly unoriginal - the rubbish weather has continued to make life very difficult for all. Top fruit has been hit very hard and although their is plenty of product around now (at least on the apple front), like everything, it seems unlikely that much will make its way into store. Similarly, those who have potatoes are commanding high prices - without them there is little incentive to turn on the cold-store when whole crops are able to be sold straight out of the ground. The shortages many feared for autumn squash have also started to materialise, with no real let-up in sight. All in all, very difficult for all involved. Interestingly, even though supermarkets are relaxing their spec for produce to allow for superficial damage, there is still an awful lot that falls outside and is coming on to the market. For those with a bit of imagination, and with a close enough connection to the customer to explain it, there is still plenty of produce to be had!
Ben Pratt, Organic Fresh Food Company August 2012
At last – a bit of optimism. Even though the general feeling is of despair, there does seem to be some hope, at least for some. After what seemed like an age, produce availability seems to be increasing weekly.
After a slow start, cauliflowers are starting to bulk up. Leeks are but a week away . Savoys, kale, cavelo, and broccoli all seem to be doing well. Blight in potatoes is a real concern and yields have been very low for those not growing blight-resistant varieties. Onion yields in places have been incredibly high, but elsewhere a complete disaster. The worry of course is for later in the season – there have been some huge losses in winter brassicas and squashes. With growing at home proving difficult, there is strong demand for what is available. So really, fingers-crossed for the coming months.
Ben Pratt, Organic Fresh Food Company June 2012
The worst growing season that many can remember has continued apace and continuity of supply is increasingly difficult. What is undercover is moving slowly with such poor light levels and the cold, and what is outside gets beaten back nightly by the onslaught of slugs. Whole crops have been lost with squashes and early purple sprouting hit very hard. The difficulty in supply that we experiencing now looks set to continue for the foreseeable future. But on the positive side, demand for Pembroke potatoes has been strong across the UK even up against very cheap product coming out of Cornwall. Its a real example of the appetite for organic produce that we are experiencing - if only the rain could stop and give growers a chance!
May 2012Ben Pratt writes:
The poor weather has continued to make life tricky and the wait for new season produce seems further and further away. That said, Pembroke new potatoes have finally arrived but there has been pressure on prices as a result of a lot of cheap product coming out of Cornwall. Field production of spinach and chard is but a few weeks ago and then hopefully there should be some momentum on local production. But some lines are several weeks behind - beetroot in the field doesn;t seem to have moved in weeks! The wet April, where growers were unable to plant or sow has really proved problematic.
Demand for produce is still strong, particularly in the local area. Let's just hope the weather gives us something to sell!
April 2012Ben Pratt writes:
Reading the market report, and with organic sales dropping further in the multiples, the ranges being cut and general doom and gloom it is perhaps easy to feel a little sorry for ourselves. But outside of mainstream retail there still seems to be a great deal of support for organics - whether it is through box schemes, farmers markets or independent retailers. We need to have faith that what is being produced in the fields in a sustainable way, with all the accompanying nutritional benefits that go with it, will long-term win out.
But regardless of whether there is a market for it, the weather this month has proved challenging. Cold and miserable days have really set growth back in the tunnels with limited availability. Rain has made it difficult to get out of the yard and onto the field. Luckily a break in the weather for some growers on the borders meant they were able to plant earlier in the week. For as much talk as there is of production in the East being cut back, there is still a fairly conservative outlook from everyone we talk to. Cauliflower is coming to the end now, stored roots likewise. And this week sees an end to one of the best years we can remember for PSB.
Current prices April 2012 (ex-farm)
March 2012Ben Pratt writes:
Lots of light and warmer days have meant growth has really shot on in the tunnels. Unfortunately, when we have gluts, so does everyone else! Winter cabbages are starting to look a little tired now but are being nicely replaced with the arrival of local spring greens from under cover. Still an abundance of purple sprouting broccoli - we're enjoying perhaps the best year we've seen and spring leeks are coming through. Caulis seem to be everywhere and the market a little sluggish for them. We're coming to the end of local carrots now and stores of UK onions are starting to run very low! The hungry gap is looming...
Current prices March 2012 (ex-farm)
February 2012Ben Pratt writes:
A month of changing weather has been both a blessing and a bit of a challenge for us in Lampeter. Growth in the tunnels seems to be storming ahead. Over-wintered lettuces have survived and we should be looking at having local lettuce by the end of March. It seems all the harder to believe when two weeks ago, crops in the field sat frozen for days on end. Looking forward though, this week should see the first seed potato going in by our growers in Pembrokeshire. The wet ground is holding them up a little but hopefully by the end of the week things should be well under way.
In November we talked about how 'local' was the new organic and this still seems very much the case. The greatest opportunities for growers seem to be supplying Welsh produce to Welsh customers. Fingers-crossed the weather will co-operate!
Current prices February 2012 (ex-farm)
Market update from Suzanne Rees, Organic Fresh Food Company - December 2011
At last the world looks like it is beginning to eat again!!! Sales are finally going up and we all wait with bated breath for the Christmas rush, will they, won't they order sprouts, the perennial Christmas dilemma!!! As we move towards the shortest day thoughts turn to the year that's just finished. It's certainly been a difficult one for growers and wholesalers alike. In some ways the growing season appeared to be getting off to a good start with such fantastic cultivation conditions but then there were the constantly cold nights which held crops back and the lack of rain.
Brassicas loved the year but squash hated it. Carrots grew well and potatoes bulked fast with little blight around. Sales were very flat throughout the summer with prices on the floor and many growers are looking at the future with some concern, so it was good recently to go to a talk by Castell Howell and Broughtons who are certainly waving the flag for Wales - now all we need is to convince them to pay the price!!
Happy Christmas and may we all look forward to a peaceful and prosperous year ahead.
Current prices December 2011 (ex-farm)
Opportunities for organic growers to supply SPAR stores in North Wales
Horticulture Wales held a meeting on 13th December between growers and Conrad Davies, who manages SPAR stores in Pwllheli, Dolgellau and Blaenau Ffestiniog. Conrad is 2011/2012 True Taste Ambassador and has a strong local sourcing policy which has been recognised by numerous awards. The meeting was positive and Conrad thought he would be able to pay wholesale prices for organic produce, provided it was of good quality. Logistics are likely to be the biggest challenge, but the meeting identified opportunities to work with other food companies in the area. Given the current need for organic growers to find new markets we feel this is an excellent opportunity for growers. If you are interested in finding out more, please contact Jane Morgan (Horticulture Wales) on 01978 293972
The organic fruit and vegetable market in Wales
Market update from Suzanne Rees, Organic Fresh Food Company - November 2011
This extraordinary weather continues. Still on the borders they have not had enough rain and the crops are struggling, whereas nearer home the mild weather is bulking up crops very fast with brassicas coming forward at an alarming pace. Also the slugs are still multiplying at an alarming rate and getting stuck into sprouts.
End of November and there are still tomatoes coming out of the tunnels!! This week will be the end of them, but what an incredibly long season it has been. Thoughts for all growers are now turning to next year and what to grow. It's been difficult for all of this year with such a poor summer in the market place which is only now beginning to pick itself back up. There is no question that local is the 'New' organic and this is the route we all need to focus on. Talking to some of the large distributors they say that there is already a small premium for Welsh products so hopefully all is not a complete disaster. Whilst the crops could do with a bit of cold weather, let's all enjoy this lovely sunshine while it lasts.
Current prices November 2011 (ex-farm)
The organic fruit and vegetable market in Wales
Market update from Suzanne Rees, Organic Fresh Food Company - October 2011
Autumn and harvest festivals are here but there's some very mixed weather out there affecting crops dramatically.
Here in Wales we have had enough rain to keep the crops moving forward and enough heat to mean that all the brassicas are now ready at the same time!!!! Feast now and famine in January!
Fortunately there are signs that business is beginning to slowly pick itself up again after the summer collapse.
On the borders they still haven't had enough rain and the intense heat is destroying shelf life on many of the brassicas. Broccoli is turning within hours of being picked even when it has been iced. Because there is still a lot of heat in the ground growers are worrying about lifting root crops into store, but then there are rumours of snow round the corner, so what to do!
Crops, particularly swede, are showing signs of boron deficiency and growers are attributing this to the strange season we have just come through Salad crops, both in the tunnels and outside are coming to an end and growers are busy planting up ready for Christmas.
Potato prices have fallen to about £5.00 a bag but have now steadied as demand starts to pick up. Cabbages are bold and beautiful – some growers reporting sizes up to 4kg each on Savoy's!! Late beans are hitting a very strong market but their days are numbered as we hunker down for a winter of roots and brassicas - bring on those hearty stews!!
In spite of all the doom and gloom around in the marketplace, here we are starting to see the beginnings of a recovery which I hope is being mirrored across the sector. Everyone still has to eat so let's give them good tasting, fairly priced wonderful organic food - they'll be back for more!
Organic Centre Wales, IBERS, Gogerddan Campus
Aberystwyth University, Ceredigion, SY23 3EB
T:01970 622248 E: firstname.lastname@example.org