Spinach Production and the UK Weather

6th July 2016

Why is the UK currently so short of spinach?

June should definitely be a summer month. British summertime starts officially on the 20th June with the summer solstice. This year summertime arrived with a huge rainstorm and a slew of sarcastic newspaper articles.

At the moment it looks like we have just finished the second wettest month ever in parts of Britain. The South East has been particularly badly hit, Essex and Middlesex got 111.5mm and 112.5mm of rainfall respectively which brings them very close to setting a record for their wettest Junes ever. In Kent it looks like the month was the wettest June for 19 years. The bookies stopped taking bets on record breaking weather halfway through the month as the forecasts promised only more doom and gloom.

Throughout the whole of the UK it has been a dull (in terms of the weather!) month, brightness for the month was well below average at just 69%. Although some areas (northern and western Scotland) have been dry most places have seen at least some of the downpours. There has been a huge amount of yellow weather warnings announced throughout the month and Cheltenham and Manchester both suffered flash flooding. There was a twister in Lincolnshire and the night before the referendum there were portentous thunderstorms and flooding in London and Hampshire.

It isn’t just the summer solstice that takes place in June. Many, many events were at the very least dampened by the weather. The Queen’s 90thbirthday saw street parties up and down the country take place under gazebos and umbrellas, heavy rain at Glastonbury created traffic mayhem as the queues backed up along the approaching roads and at the end of the month Wimbledon organisers had to cut the men’s doubles competition to the best of 3 sets due to time lost to rain.

This continued rain has had a very negative effect on outdoor salad production. Spinach production in particular has suffered enormously during the first part of the UK season. UK spinach production is estimated at between 500 and 600 tonnes of crop a week, spinach has been a preferred crop for British consumers for years now and in the current trend for mono product packs spinach leads the way (with rocket the number two mono pack on British supermarket shelves).

At the end of June we find ourselves in a deep UK spinach shortage. Rain at the moment of drilling means that the roots cannot go deep enough into the soil, if the rain continues during the growing cycle this problem is compounded in that the plant is restricted in the nutrients it can gather. If the beds slump with the extra water the problems are further compounded. This is where farmers start to see strips of their fields turning yellow. A crop experiencing heavy rain at harvest means that the leaf is wet and full of water, this in turn means a reduced shelf life especially if the plant has experienced rain at drilling and during the growth cycle. This is without even mentioning the fact that heavy rain and hail can obviously cause huge visible damage to uncovered leafy crops.

UK spinach crop, even when the weather is dry, has a disadvantage compared to other climates, our long daylight hours in the summer and the lack of a large temperature drop overnight means that the leaf is already not as robust as it could be. Spanish winter is largely acknowledged as the best climate for growing outdoor spinach as mild days but cool nights produce a thick leaf with excellent shelf life. So this year, UK farmers, on top of the natural disadvantage they are fighting anyway have been left with a very difficult task on their hands after the June we have just had.

However, the good news is that the torrential and unending rainy days seem to have at the very least been put on pause. With the UK spinach growing cycle at under 30 days at this time of year we should start to move towards better product. Crop drilled at the end of June experienced problems at drilling but, hopefully, better conditions during the rest of its growth and harvest. So as we move through July things should start to improve daily. Just in time for all those August summer holiday barbeques!