Europe faces the risk of vegetable shortages

Emmanuel Lefebvre produces thousands of tons of chicory every year on his northern farm but this year may have to drop the crop because of high electricity prices.

Across Northern and Western Europe, vegetable producers are contemplating stopping growing crops because of financial problems caused by the European energy crisis. Rising electricity and gas prices will affect the growing of greenhouse crops that need heating throughout the winter, such as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, and those that require cold storage such as apples, onions, and chicory.





Emmanuel Lefebvre and Christophe Mazingarbe, two lettuce farmers, in a vegetable field in Bouvines in France September 15.  Photo: Reuters

Emmanuel Lefebvre and Christophe Mazingarbe, two lettuce farmers, in a vegetable field in Bouvines in France September 15. Image: Reuters

Chicory consumes a lot of energy. Once harvested in the fall, they need to be stored in sub-zero temperatures, then replanted in a temperature-controlled container for year-round growing.

“We are wondering if there will be anything in the field this winter,” Lefebvre said at the chicory packing site.

European farmers warn this winter there may be a shortage of vegetables. Low output, high prices, makes it possible for supermarkets to turn to sourcing goods in countries with warmer climates such as Morocco, Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt.

Rising gas prices are the biggest cost greenhouse vegetable farmers face. Meanwhile, two French farmers who just renewed their electricity contracts for 2023 said they were quoted 10 times higher than in 2021.





Workers cut lettuce roots for packing in Bouvines on September 16.  Photo: Reuters

Workers cut lettuce roots for packing in Bouvines on September 16. Image: Reuters

“In the coming weeks I will start a new crop but now I don’t know what to plant,” said Benjamin Simonot-De Vos, a tomato, cucumber and strawberry farmer south of Paris. “If the situation continues like this, there is no way to do another case, it is not sustainable.”

Farmers are not only faced with rising energy prices. Fertilizer costs, packaging, transportation, are all increasing and affecting profits.

“We face an overall increase in production costs of about 30 percent,” said Johannes Gross, deputy sales manager for Germany’s Reichenau-Gemüse cooperative, which covers about 60 hectares of greenhouses. “Energy accounts for one-half to two-thirds of the additional costs.”

“Some of my colleagues are thinking of leaving the greenhouse empty to keep costs as low as possible. No one knows what will happen next year,” he said.

The greenhouse industry group Glastuinbouw Nederland says up to 40% of its 3,000 members are experiencing financial difficulties. Even in warm countries like Spain, vegetable farmers are grappling with a 25% increase in fertilizer costs.





Mr. Lefebvre holds vegetables as he stands in front of vegetable packing boxes at the De La Marliere production facility in Bouvines on September 15.  Photo: Reuters

Mr. Lefebvre holds vegetables as he stands in front of vegetable packing boxes at the De La Marliere production facility in Bouvines on September 15. Image: Reuters

Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers’ Association, said it was inevitable that fruit and berry production would shift to warmer climates.

“We’re going to move the crop further and further south, through Spain, into Morocco and parts of Africa,” Ward said.

Hong Hanh (Theo Reuters)

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