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'Huge additional burden' on UK's tomato, cucumber and pepper growers, says FPC's Nigel Jenney

The cost of growing young British tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers is surging, in the latest example of how the energy crunch is roiling the country's food sector.

The vegetables aren't suited to grow in the British climate but can flourish in heated greenhouses. While the current season for growing crops like tomatoes is drawing to a close, farmers will soon house seedlings for next year's harvest, says Nigel Jenney, head of the Fresh Produce Consortium.

That makes the recent spike in gas costs particularly worrisome, as the glasshouses for young plants must be heated through the winter before the weather warms. The rising energy bills are "a huge additional burden" on growers, and some might cut back or delay plantings, Jenney said.

"This is absolute decision time for next year's crop," he explained. "What you have is a situation where you're nurturing and growing these crops for four to five months in the coldest period of the year, which is your largest energy demand before you have any crop to sell."

Higher growing costs risk further stoking food inflation, as the sector also contends with truck-driver shortages and staffing problems in the wake of Brexit and the pandemic. The country's recent carbon dioxide crunch is another headache, as the gas is used widely, including at slaughterhouses and soft-drink plants, as well as in food packaging. 
"They are a chance for the industry to rally together and get the solutions needed," concluded Jenney.

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