Britain is facing a Brussels Sprout shortage this Christmas as the big freeze devastates the winter harvest, farmers warned today.
The arctic conditions have left British-grown crops frozen solid and impossible to harvest by machine.
Growers have a ‘window’ of ten days before Christmas to process their sprouts – but forecasts suggest the key growing areas will be frozen right up to the festive period.
Supermarkets are now drawing up contingency plans to source sprouts from abroad but availability could become limited, according to British farmers.
Chris Gedney, managing director of TH Clements & Son in Boston, Lincs., said the weather could have ”devastating” effect on the sprout harvest.
He said: ”If the icy weather continues it’s going to be very difficult for us to get our produce out.
”There are lots of vegetables that will be short, including Brussels sprouts, if the bad weather continues in the same vein.
”There’s a big risk if the weather continues we will miss our window of opportunity for harvesting. Over the next week to 10 days, we will be very, very short.
”We’ve never been unable to deliver a Christmas yet but this will a very testing year if the weather continues as it is.
”It wouldn’t be good for British agriculture and British producers if Holland were able to take advantage of the weather conditions.
”They will be looking to capture the market. It could be devastating for us.”
Graham Marsh, 56, foreman at RH Foster Farm, near Boston, Lincs., has been unable to harvest half of his 50 acres because the sprouts are frozen solid.
He added: ”It’s very difficult to harvest. For the past two weeks its been almost impossible because the sprouts are frozen solid.
”Everyone is affected and so the big supermarkets have taken to importing sprouts from Holland because the ones in England are still frozen.
”They will thaw eventually but this is our busiest time of the year no one wants sprouts after Christmas.
”We had it pretty bad last year but that was only for a few days – it’s been more like two weeks this winter.
”The major problem will be the 10 days leading up to Christmas because that is when it gets really crazy. Hopefully the snow and ice will have gone by then.”
Sprouts can be harvested down to temperatures of -4C but the nationwide freeze has seen lows of -8C plummeting as far as -20C in Scotland.
Below -4C the sprouts shatter as they come off the stalk and machine tyres are frozen to the ground in their tracks.
Workers are currently being forced to cut the stalks by hand and bring the plants indoors to thaw for 48 hours before harvesting them.
Met Office predictions covering 9 to 21 December – the key harvesting period – forecast freezing temperatures throughout the planted areas.
Chris Gedney added: ”The cost of harvesting is increasing as extra people are drafted in to bring in the stalks and thaw them out.
”We usually allow two or three days for harvesting, packing and delivering although working round the clock we can get it down to 24 hours, although it’s not ideal.”
TJ Clements, based in Boston, Lincs., produce 6,200 tonnes of sprouts every year on its 6,000-acre site.
The UK sprout industry has a retail value of £54 million a year and has seen steady growth over the past four years, according to Kantar Worldpanel data.
More than 40,000 tonnes are consumed throughout the UK, with the busy festive period accounting for over 67 per cent of the annual tonnage.
Sprouts are a slow-growing vegetable, taking 26 to 31 weeks to reach maturity and grow on a 3ft-tall plant, a thick stem studded with about 100 sprout ‘buttons’.