Vegetable farmers in northern and western Europe are contemplating halting their farming activities there due to the financial hit from Europe’s energy crisis, a move if successful, will further threaten food supplies in Europe.
The European vegetable growers are also plotting to move their farming to North Africa.
According to media reports, in Europe, surging power and gas prices will impact crops grown through the coming winter season in heated greenhouses, such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.
Also affected are harvested crops and fruits which need to be placed in cold storage, such as apples, onions and endives.
Endives are particularly energy hungry. After the bulbs are harvested in the autumn, they are stored in below-freezing temperatures and then later replanted in temperature-controlled containers to allow for year-round production.
According to the Arab Weekly, Emmanuel Lefebvre, is a farmer who produces thousands of tonnes of endives annually on his farm in northern France, but this year he may be forced to abandon his crop due to crippling energy costs required to freeze the harvested bulbs.
“We really wonder if we’ll harvest what is in the fields this winter,” Lefebvre said.
The anticipated hit to production and jump in prices means supermarkets may switch to sourcing more goods from warmer countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, all in North Africa.
However, according to experts this could further squeeze out domestic consumers who added that another complicating factor was that farming exports were not yet part of trade agreements between the European Union with North Africa.
“Tunisians spent years trying to reach an agreement on agriculture and services with no result because of the EU’s protectionism. An adequate framework has to be defined first,” a Tunisian economist said
“In the coming weeks I will plan the season but I don’t know what to do,” said Benjamin Simonot-De Vos, who grows cucumbers, tomatoes and strawberries south of Paris.
“If it stays like this there’s no point starting another year. It’s not sustainable.”
European farmers are not just contending with spiralling energy prices. The cost of fertiliser, packaging and transport are all on the rise and jeopardising margins.
“We face an overall increased production cost of around 30 percent,” said Johannes Gross, deputy sales manager at the German cooperative Reichenau-Gemuse whose greenhouses cover some 60 hectares. Energy accounted for anywhere between half and two-thirds of these extra costs, he said.
“Some colleagues are thinking about leaving their greenhouses empty to keep the costs as low as possible. Nobody knows what will happen next year,” he added.
Greenhouse industry group Glastuinbouw Nederland says up to 40% of its 3,000 members are in financial distress.
Even in sun-flushed countries like Spain, fruit and vegetable farmers are grappling with a 25% increase in fertiliser costs.
Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers Association, said it was inevitable production of fruit and vegetables would shift to warmer climes.
“We will move production further and further south, down through Spain and into Morocco and bits of Africa,” Ward said.
However, experts say a number of hurdles may hinder such a southward move. Morocco and Tunisia, the two North Africa countries with greater agricultural potential face their own set of energy pressures and may not be well equipped to handle additional demand.”
Two other North African countries with no energy crisis, Libya and Algeria are not expected to demonstrate any interest nor capability in developing farming cooperation with Europe.
Another major inhibitive factor would be water shortage in Morocco and Tunisia as a result of depletion of hydraulic resources and global warming.