The humble turnip has had a big few weeks after Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey responded to shortages of salads in supermarkets by suggesting that Brits should each seasonal vegetables such as turnips instead.
It has now been revealed that the largest turnip grower in the UK, Suffolk’s AW Mortier, who are located in Ms Coffey’s own constituency, will not grow the crop this year after it became unprofitable.
AW Mortier, near Alderton in Suffolk, had a near monopoly on the few turnips available in supermarkets but gave up in September last year because of stores’ unwillingness to pay higher prices to make up for rising costs of energy and fertiliser.
Grower Richard Parry, who formerly produced some 30 million turnips a year, told The Mirror, “Turnips don’t have the greatest reputation, they’re not a sexy vegetable. Most people don’t know what to do with a turnip or even how to cook one. I understand the point Ms Coffey was trying to make about using British veg, but a carrot would have been a far better example.”
He said due to declining demand, production had dropped by two-thirds over the last 15 years. Richard also cited labour availability and rising energy costs as another factor in his decision to stop growing the crop. “Labour has been more and more tricky for the last five years. We’ve had less people coming back to work here from Eastern Europe,” he said. “It’s harder to get hold of people because of legislation and better opportunities in mainland Europe. Brexit certainly hasn’t made things any easier.”
Andrew Thorogood, managing director of wholesale S Thorogood and Sons, told reporters that, “It just wasn’t worth [Mortier’s] doing it. They were tied into all the supermarkets and being tied down terribly. The open-market price is much higher than the supermarkets are prepared to pay – that’s quite a normal thing these days.
“Most of our turnips now come from either these two or three growers or France. We import probably 70 or 80% of our product from France, and more and more from Spain and Portugal.”
When approached by The Guardian, Defra did not comment on whether Coffey knew that Mortiers had stopped growing turnips. A spokesperson said UK growers were “crucial to the resilience of our food system,” and the government knew that farmers were “facing global pressures, including from the invasion of Ukraine”.
“The UK has a highly resilient food chain and is well equipped to deal with disruption,” they said.