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Empty shelves at Waitrose, Putney Exchange Shopping Centre, London, UK. Photo credit: John Cameron

UK greenhouses shut down due to high energy costs

In Great Britain, a particularly depressing facet of the crisis is now showing its first contours - and thus anticipating what is likely to happen in other European countries in the near future: because of the exploding energy prices, agriculture is being strangled and fresh produce has to be rationed.

Published: February 28, 2023, 8:46 am

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    High energy prices in the UK have meant that many farmers have made limited use of greenhouses to plant winter crops. According to a BBC report, this is leading to the first supermarkets to ration various types of vegetables. Field crops such as tomatoes, peppers, lamb’s lettuce, cauliflower or cucumbers are sometimes only sold in limited quantities.

    Meanwhile, wholesalers are looking for new suppliers from other countries – but this means that the harvests have to travel much longer distances to Europe, which is not in the interest of the environment.

    So far, farmers are not among those who benefit particularly from public support. This is now beginning to have an impact on consumers. Inexpensive food that is available all year round will soon be a thing of the past in Europe.

    Rabat markets ‘well supplied with basic products’

    British consumers are told that the impact that high electricity prices are having on produce grown in greenhouses in the UK, is due to “climate change”. The UK government has therefore blamed “bad weather” in Morocco.

    The situation is quite different however: From the beginning of 2023 to February 22, 64 034 places of production, storage and wholesale and retail sales were inspected, said Moroccan government spokesman, Mustapha Baitas.

    During these interventions, 3 325 offences were recorded in terms of pricing and quality, Baitas said in a press briefing after the meeting of the Government Council, in response to a question on the results of control operations and the situation of seized products.

    The joint commissions seized and destroyed 400 tons of products “not conforming to the standards in force”, while all usable products were sold at public auction, he added.

    The minister had stressed earlier that the markets “are well supplied with basic products”.

    UK to introduce GM foods

    In the UK, the Lea Valley Growers Association (LVGA) produces around 75 percent of the country’s crops. They now say that half of the greenhouses are empty and production is expected to go down by up to 60 percent.

    The Bank of England director, Andrew Bailey, apologized in June last year for sounding “apocalyptic” about rising food prices.

    Such dire warnings have led to support for the introduction of a Bill that paves the way for genetically modified (GM) crops, with new food laws expected to pass through the UK’s Parliament.

    Not a UK problem only

    “Many greenhouse producers are abandoning their businesses due to the inability to cover their current heating and labor costs. So far, the state has taken absolutely no measures to support the greenhouse production sector. As we all know, it is one of the most expensive industries in the agricultural sector and is directly related to gas and electricity prices,” according to the Bulgarian Association of Greenhouse Farmers.

    The profitability of Dutch companies have also been impacted, because energy represents 20 to 30 percent of their costs, Reuters reported.

    A study conducted by ABN Amro predicted that rising energy prices would cost Dutch companies around 22 billion euros this year as gas and electricity prices jumped almost 5 times their 2019 levels.

    Among the most impacted sectors: greenhouse production whose annual turnover reaches around 8 billion euros but where energy represents 20 to 30 percent of the costs. Already 40 percent of the members of the Glastuinbouw Nederland group are operating at a loss, due to excessive energy costs.

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