We can’t control the weather in Spain, Therese Coffey tells NFU conference

The Environment Secretary told farmers “we can’t control the weather in Spain” when confronted with the news that supermarkets are limiting sales of fruit and vegetables.

In her speech to delegates at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference in Birmingham, Therese Coffey stressed the need for biosecurity but left the conference hall before discussing the supermarket shortages.

She also denied that a billion fewer eggs being produced in 2022 compared with 2019 constituted a market failure.

Replying to Ms Coffey’s comments about the weather, NFU president Minette Batters, said: “No, but we can be encouraging these guys to be producing here and I’m conscious that’s something that we really need to hone in on.”

She also joked about the Secretary of State having to jog to make her train on time.

Retailers warned on Tuesday of a shortage of tomatoes and other fruit and vegetables with some supermarkets restricting what their customers can buy.

Bad weather and transport problems in Africa and Europe have left shelves bare of tomatoes and are hindering the supply of other fresh produce.

Asda has introduced a customer limit of three on tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, salad bags, broccoli, cauliflower and raspberries, and Morrisons said it would be introducing limits of two items per customer across tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, peppers from Wednesday.

The NFU president told delegates yesterday that “the clock is ticking” for the Government to get inflation under control so farmers can produce food more reliably and protect the country’s food security.

She said: “It’s ticking for Government to start putting meaningful, tangible and effective meat on the bones of the commitments it has made.

“Commitments to promote domestic food production, to properly incentivise sustainable and climate-friendly farming, to put farmers and growers at the heart of our trade policy, to guarantee our food security and to back British farming and British food.”

Marion Regan, a berry grower in Kent, said Ms Coffey’s comments shows that she “doesn’t understand” the challenges faced by growers and horticulturists in the UK.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also said yesterday that “food security is national security” and that his party would commit to “buying, making and selling more in Britain”.

National Farmers’ Union Conference
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told the NFU conference on Tuesday that ‘food security is national security’ (Ben Birchall/PA)

The NFU has launched resilience plans for different farming sectors, which it says will help businesses become more efficient and produce more sustainable food.

NFU deputy president Tom Bradshaw said: “In the current economic climate, the production of affordable, climate-friendly food, energy and fibre is more important than ever.

“Yet British farmers face huge challenges, from extreme weather events to crippling energy, feed and fertiliser costs, which are limiting our ability to deliver these crucial products for the nation.

“To overcome these barriers, we need to build resilience into our agri-food supply chains by improving efficiency, increasing on-farm carbon storage and producing more renewable energy.

“This will enable a more sustainable future for farm businesses, both financially and environmentally, and a more secure supply of British food, fuel and fibre for the country.”