Endive grower Emmanuel Lefebvre holds up a flashlight to inspect growing endives
by Ardee NAPOLITANO and Sybille de La Hamaide
BOUVINES, France (Reuters) – Emmanuel Lefebvre produces thousands of tonnes of chicory each year on his farm in northern France, but could abandon his harvest this year due to energy costs of freezing harvested bulbs.
Some horticulturists in northern and western Europe plan to stop their activity due to the energy crisis affecting the region, which could further threaten food supplies.
Rising electricity and gas prices will hit hard the production of tomatoes, peppers and even cucumbers, which are grown in greenhouses during the winter, as well as apples, endives and onions, which must be kept cold.
Endive cultivation is particularly energy-intensive: once the bulbs have been harvested, they are kept in cold storage before being replanted in tubs placed in rooms with controlled temperature and humidity.
“Today we are really at a complete standstill and wondering if we will harvest what is in the fields this winter,” Emmanuel Lefebvre told Reuters.
European farmers warn of the risk of shortages. Uncertainties about production and rising prices raise fears that supermarkets will get more supplies from producers in countries such as Morocco, Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt, where the climate is more temperate.
Rising gasoline prices are hitting gardeners who grow their vegetables in greenhouses especially hard, according to farmers.
Two French farmers due to renew their electricity contracts for 2023 said the prices offered to them were ten times higher than in 2021.
“In the next few weeks I will plan the season, but I don’t know what I will do,” said Benjamin Simonot-De Vos, who grows cucumbers, tomatoes and strawberries in Seine-et-Marne, south of Paris.
“If nothing is done, there is no point in starting a season again, it is not sustainable.”
In addition to rising energy costs, farmers are also facing rising prices for fertilizers, packaging, and transportation.
“Production costs have risen by around 30%,” says Johannes Gross, deputy sales manager for the German cooperative Reichenau-Gemüse, whose greenhouses occupy some 60 hectares.
Power accounts for between half and two-thirds of the additional costs, he added.
“Some of our colleagues are considering not using their greenhouses to keep their costs as low as possible. Nobody knows what will happen next year,” said Johannes Gross.
Countries like Spain, which experience strong sunshine, are also affected. Spanish fruit and vegetable producers have seen a 25% increase in the price of fertilizers.
For Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers Association, it is inevitable that fruit and vegetable production will move to warmer climates.
“Production will increasingly move south, from Spain to Morocco and parts of Africa,” he said.
(With contributions from Nigel Hunt, Nette Noestlinger, and Emma Pinedo Gonzalez; French version Camille Raynaud, editing by Kate Entringer)