Daily Mail, by Tom Pyman: Supermarkets are rationing fruit and vegetables as shelves continue to remain bare in stores across the country.
Shoppers in some Asda stores have been told that they can buy up to three packs each of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, salad bags, broccoli, cauliflower and raspberries at a time as supplies run empty in a number of outlets.
The crisis has developed in recent weeks due to soaring energy costs which have forced British farmers to switch off greenhouses as they desperately try to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, a ‘perfect storm’ of flooding, cold temperatures and cancelled ferries have caused major supply problems on the Continent.
One shopper, Hilary Paterson-Jones, said she had to visit four supermarkets in her home town of Holyhead, Anglesey, to complete her weekly shop.
She said: ‘There was hardly any fresh produce in Tesco. In Morrisons I asked a young staff member what was going on and he said there was nothing in the back stores.
‘It was the same in Aldi and Lidl, it seemed to be affecting all the supermarkets.
‘Shortages have been getting worse in recent months but I was shocked to see so many empty shelves at 10am on a Saturday morning.
‘Things can get bad during the summer when the tourists arrive, but nothing like this. Prices are going through the roof but a lack of basic foodstuffs is unacceptable.’
After sharing her concerns on social media, Ms. Paterson-Jones was contacted by scores of other people from around Britain.
One couldn’t get apples, another struggled with cabbages, and a third was stumped for orange juice. Tomatoes and iceberg lettuce proved particularly difficult to buy.
In one Morrisons store, staff put up a sign apologising for the disruption.
It read: ‘Availability across our tomato range has been significantly impacted by adverse weather conditions across Spain and Morocco. The current shortage is likely to improve within a couple of weeks.’
An Asda spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘Like other supermarkets, we are experiencing sourcing challenges on some products that are grown in southern Spain and north Africa.
‘We have introduced a temporary limit of three of each product on a very small number of fruit and vegetable lines, so customers can pick up the products they are looking for.’
Shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon, who will speak at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference today, told Sky News how soaring energy costs in the UK were also a major reason for shortages.
‘You’ve got farmers who feel so frustrated that they haven’t got government support and if you’re a consumer you’re going into the supermarket and seeing that shelves are empty,’ he said.
‘Why? Because the Government is not on the side of farmers or on the side of food security, and in the end, consumers are paying the price.
‘We do grow produce here but it’s a matter of fact that we’re not growing tomatoes for instance because the cost of energy in the greenhouses is so high that they’ve just been turned off. That is a contributing factor to why there are gaps on the supermarket shelves.
‘The reason you can’t buy eggs on Pancake Day in many supermarkets is because of avian flu. The Government could have responded much quicker to that and farmers feel very frustrated with the way they’ve been treated.’
Mr. McMahon’s comments were backed up by the NFU’s vice president David Exwood.
He told MailOnline: ‘We are repeatedly seeing a predictable combination of factors such as energy costs and weather leading to empty supermarket shelves.
‘Our UK food resilience is currently gone. The Government needs to take this seriously.
‘Producers must have the confidence they need, working within a fair and transparent supply chain, ensuring fair and sustainable returns so they can do what they do best – produce nutritious, high quality British food to meet demand from shoppers.’
Tim O’Malley, of major importer Nationwide Produce, said volatile growing conditions had seen wholesale spot prices for fresh produce lines soar by as much as 300 per cent.
Frost damage to home-grown British crops such as carrots, cabbages, parsnips and cauliflowers also means many fields have been written off.
Some farming campaigners say red tape associated with Brexit is also playing a part.
Mr. O’Malley said the single biggest factor behind the crisis was ‘Mother Nature’ and volatile weather.
He added: ‘I can honestly say that in the 40 years I’ve been in this trade, I’ve never seen such high spot prices across such a broad range of products for such a prolonged period of time.’
He said the delivered price for a box of peppers was up from £8-£9 to around £22, while a box of tomatoes was up from £7-£8 to £14.
Courgettes have risen from £5-£7 to £12, iceberg lettuces from £6-£8 to £19, and Dutch onions from £250-£270 per ton to £700.
Mr. O’Malley said: ‘It’s the perfect storm of terrible growing weather and, of course, inflation.
‘It started with the heatwave and drought this summer throughout Europe. Then we had a very mild autumn and then we were plunged into a deep freeze.
‘Just three weeks ago Ibiza was covered in snow. Temperatures dropped to -15C (5F) in Catalonia while at the same time, the overnight low here was -8C (18F) in Oxfordshire.
‘Spain is our main source of fresh produce in winter by far. They’ve pretty much gone straight from a red-hot summer to a freezing cold winter with no autumn in between.
‘All this has led to a major reduction in yields, reduction in size, quality issues, viruses.’
Mr. O’Malley also pointed to prolonged periods of sub-zero temperatures in Morocco, another major source of fresh produce, notably tomatoes.
Andrew Opie, of the British Retail Consortium, said: ‘Difficult weather conditions in the south of Europe and northern Africa have disrupted harvest for some fruit and vegetables including tomatoes.
‘However, supermarkets are adept at managing supply chain issues and are working with farmers to ensure that customers are able to access a wide range of fresh produce.’
Short supply could lead to larger shortages.
“For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.” Matthew 24:7.