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Roundup: Heatwaves could lead to higher food prices in Britain
From:Xinhua  |  2018-08-02 03:55

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LONDON, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) -- British experts on Wednesday warned that the heatwave could spark the rise in food prices in the country "for some time to come" as London prepares for a second summer blast, with temperature heading for 32 degrees Celsius.

The British Retail Consortium chief executive, Helen Dickinson, warned that weeks of warm weather coupled with a surge in demand for certain goods due to social summer events like the World Cup had piled pressure on producers.

Food inflation rose to 1.6 percent in July, up from 1.2 percent in June and May, press reports said Wednesday.

Heatwaves and rare rain fall already led to yellow lawns and shrinking lakes in many parts of Britain.

"We expect this period of food price inflation to continue in coming months as, despite global oil, food and commodities prices shrinking recently, the hot, dry conditions mean the pressure on prices will continue for some time to come," Dickinson said.


Staple foods from bread to potatoes, milk and meat were in shorter supply than usual last year and prices to consumers had to rise in November, as British farmers counted the cost of the two-month drought and heatwave across the UK.

There will be little respite from the hot weather in many areas of the country -- even as thunderstorms and heavy rains spread from the east -- as farmers have seen their crops wilt, their fields parched and livestock struggle in the extreme conditions.

Following the year's wet and cold spring, many livestock farmers have had to dip into their stores of winter feed early, said Robert Martin, who keeps a 120-strong herd of dairy cattle near Carlisle.

"Milk yields are down because of the conditions," he said. "People are coming to market early with cattle because they can't afford to carry passengers."

Tim Mead of the organic dairy company Yeo Valley said a 10 percent reduction in milk yield was common but "there is still plenty of milk around."

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association, said confidence in the beef market had also "taken a hit" as the result of lower supplies of fodder and very little grass.

"Store markets are well down in price, which may lead to shortages into next year," he warned.

Another problem for livestock farmers is the lack of straw, used for bedding.

"Straw length is short because of the impact of the hot weather on the growth of wheat and barley, and straw was already in desperately short supply because of the previous year's wet harvest, said Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association.

The widespread nature of the heatwave across Europe and beyond would mean retailers cannot simply pick up cheaper food elsewhere to put on their shelves, said Liz Bowles, head of farming at the Soil Association.

"Many food exporter regions around the globe are being affected, so we could see pressure on prices for consumers," she said.


Farming leaders have warned that thousands of rural families may face hardship as a result of this year's conditions.

Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers Association, warned of impacts across the market for vegetables. "As a broad generalisation, volumes (of crops harvested) will be down and for the majority of crops costs will be up."

The next few months would be crucial, he said. "Brassicas, such as broccoli and cabbage, are down in volume. With salad, growers are having difficulty just keeping the plants alive. But there is still time for potatoes to bulk up, and onions," he said. "That will depend on the weather in August and September."

Many farmers are having to harvest crops, particularly grain, early this year because the hot conditions have caused them to ripen sooner, but without time to "bulk up" to their usual size. This is likely to depress the yield on such crops, which could in turn raise prices.

Malcolm Thomas, chairman of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, which provided two million pounds (2.63 million U.S. dollars) in help to farming families last year, said: "I envisage a busy autumn and winter (for us), with many livestock farmers already forced to feed winter rations to their stock."

"Having to buy more feed will quickly drive up overheads," Thomas said. "We've not seen weather like this in decades, and it's worth remembering it comes hot on the heels of a long cold winter and a particularly wet spring, which resulted in floods in many areas."

British farmers are used to dealing with the vagaries of the weather, but the long winter and cold spring, followed by the heatwave, has produced a meteorological double whammy that has sent many reeling.

That would have been bad enough, but the added effects of Brexit are creating turmoil.

"Reacting to what the elements throw at you is part of a farmer's life, and most accept that," Thomas said. "However, extreme weather creates extreme challenges, that make it impossible to plan for anything. There's already tremendous uncertainty about the future due to Brexit and the implications of a possible no deal outcome."