The UK Carrot ‘Crisis’: What does this mean for our carrots? November 5, 2018
From the Beast of the East to the scorching Summer heat-wave, 2018 has seen a year of extremely polarised seasons. Whilst the long, hot summer was great news for most of us, British carrot farmers were faced with crops of smaller, thinner carrots after the hot, dry weather prevented the vegetables from growing.
When we made a recent trip to our carrot supplier Alan Bartlett & Sons, based in beautiful East Anglia (above), we spoke with their agronomist, Pete Saunders, to get a better understanding about why this extreme weather has affected the growth of UK carrot crops in particular, and how this will affect the size of carrots that go into our boxes.
“The wet cold weather in the spring meant that seed sowing was delayed, so when the seedlings finally emerged they were at a much younger growth stage to what it typically would be to survive the summer heat. Although we saw some of the seeds germinating straight away, others really struggled to come up. When you have this staggered germination, you often see bigger plants that can get their roots down taking up all the water which means that smaller plants really struggle to grow”.
Because carrots are a temperature crop, they won’t grow when temperatures are above 25 degrees centigrade. According to Pete, the seeds have an inbuilt ‘defence mechanism’ so they know not to germinate when the temperatures are too high: “It didn’t matter how much water you were giving the seeds, they were never going to germinate when the soil temperatures were at 50 degrees – 40% of the water we were putting down was just evaporating straight off the soil”.
Despite good seed bed preparation, seed drilling depth and irrigation management, emerging seedlings burnt as they reached the soil surface. In some situations, the heat was killing the seed before it even started germination, and at other sites, seeds were germinating but the heat was drying up the soil before irrigations could be applied. Despite drilling (sowing) the seed as deep as is safely possible, the seeds were killed by excessive temperatures, or triggered into some sort of dormancy and may germinate later in the Autumn.
Toby Barlett commented that the hotter weather also affected other annual plant species like onions and brassicas – “unfortunately, no matter how many contingency plans you put in place as a farmer, there’s not a lot you can do when extreme weather fronts delay the drilling of crops”.
What does this mean for the size of carrots later in the season?
Because of the delays in drilling (sowing the seeds), we’re expecting to see a real variation in sizes throughout the rest of the season, up to May 2019. While the same volume of carrots will be produced, they are likely to be a slightly smaller in size. Although all our Carrots are graded by crown size, the length may vary from short to long.
What are Bartletts doing to minimise the impact of extreme weather in the future?
- The impact of heat on soil can be reduced by sowing seeds earlier so the crop leaves create shade on the soil, so we will be aiming to try and get more crop drilled earlier. Stoney sand soils get hotter quicker so we will aim to get these established before the hot early summer.
- We are talking with the breeders to see if longer term they can look at the genetics of the European carrot. Carrots are grown all over the world and in some parts, such as the Middle East, the varieties are bred to perform in much warmer climates.
- We will experiment with selecting larger seed that can be drilled deeper into the cooler soil, away from the hot surface.
- If hotter early summers become the norm in future, our later sown carrot seed can be grown on farms along the North Norfolk coast where the huge block of cool Sea keeps the land 3 or 4 Centigrade cooler than inland East Anglia.