European farmers warn of shortages due to energy crisis

Vegetable producers contemplate halting activities because of high energy costs

Farmer Emmanuel Lefebvre holds endives as he stands in front of empty boxes used in packaging in the De La Marliere production site in Bouvines, France. Reuters
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Emmanuel Lefebvre produces thousands of tonnes of endives on his farm in northern France annually, but this year, he may abandon his crop because of the energy costs required to freeze the harvested bulbs.

Across northern and western Europe, vegetable producers are contemplating halting their activities because of the financial hit from Europe's energy crisis, further threatening food supplies.

Surging power and gas prices will affect crops grown through the winter in heated greenhouses, such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, and those which need to be placed in cold storage, such as apples, onions and endives.

Endives are particularly energy hungry. After the bulbs are harvested in the autumn, they are stored in below-freezing temperatures and then later replanted in temperature-controlled containers to allow for year-round production.

“We really wonder if we'll harvest what is in the fields this winter,” Mr Lefebvre told Reuters at the site where his endives are packaged.

European farmers are warning of shortages. The expected hit to production and jump in prices means supermarkets may switch to sourcing more goods from warmer countries such as Morocco, Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt.

Surging gas prices are the biggest cost vegetable farmers cultivating inside greenhouses face, farmers said.

Meanwhile, two French farmers renewing their electricity contracts for 2023 said they were being quoted prices more than 10 times those of 2021.

“In the coming weeks, I will plan the season but I don't know what to do,” said Benjamin Simonot-De Vos, who grows cucumbers, tomatoes and strawberries south of Paris.

“If it stays like this, there's no point starting another year. It's not sustainable.”

Farmers are not only contending with spiralling energy prices: the cost of fertiliser, packaging and transport are all on the rise and jeopardising margins.

“We face an overall increased production cost of around 30 per cent,” said Johannes Gross, deputy sales manager at the German co-operative Reichenau-Gemuse, whose greenhouses cover about 60 hectares.

Energy accounted for anywhere between half and two thirds of these extra costs, he said.

“Some colleagues are thinking about leaving their greenhouses empty to keep the costs as low as possible. Nobody knows what will happen next year,” he added.

Greenhouse industry group Glastuinbouw Nederland says up to 40 per cent of its 3,000 members are in financial distress.

Even in sun-flushed countries such as Spain, fruit and vegetable farmers are grappling with a 25 per cent increase in fertiliser costs.

Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers Association, said it was inevitable production of fruit and vegetables would shift to warmer climes.

“We will move production further and further south, down through Spain and into Morocco and bits of Africa,” Mr Ward said.

Updated: September 24, 2022, 4:00 AM