Procurement challenges ahead as weather hits crop production

Back from Dubai and temperatures of 38C (just short of 100 degrees F), we arrived at Heathrow last Thursday to sleet showers. Now things picked up over the weekend in the UK, with temperatures up to around 10C – but still below the norm for this time of year, and still cold at night.

I even got out into the garden, but I still haven’t planted a single seed in the vegetable plot. (It looks rather sorry for itself, as the picture shows).  The soil is just too cold still, and nothing will germinate until it has warmed up another few degrees. My potatoes which have in theory been “chitting” in the garage have not produced a single shoot yet. They’d normally be going into the ground around now, with several nice 2-3 centimetre shoots already growing, to give the plant a good start in the soil.

That might be a shame for me, but for many farmers and horticulturalists, not to mention garden centre owners, this is a lot more serious. It is threatening their entire livelihood. The Independent newspaper yesterday looked at the issue, and reported on problems ahead unless the weather suddenly turns in a pretty dramatic way.

For instance, “it emerged that because the bad weather has ravaged crops so badly Britain is expected to become a net importer of wheat later this year for the first time in a decade”.  Planting hasn’t started for many crops yet, and even fruit cultivated under polytunnels and fleece is not growing as it should be given the cold and low light levels.

This is inevitably going to lead to reduced yields and shortages as we get into the main summer and autumn harvests, with more imports and higher prices the likely consequence for the UK later in the year. That will have an effect on the general economy, at retail level and of course for those firms for whom fruit and vegetables are raw materials and ingredients. So it could be a challenging time for food manufacturers, caterers and the like.

That needs procurement people in these sectors to make sure they are using all the tools available to them. One point worth considering is that, for larger buyers certainly, these markets offer fertile ground (sorry!) for advanced souring techniques and processes. Heinz won the CIPS Awards way back in 2004 with what was one of the first examples we’d seen of “market informed sourcing” (as we call it), used for sourcing ingredients for soups and other products.

So if you haven’t considered  that yet, now might be a good time to do so, given difficult markets ahead. You could read the two papers we’ve written on the topic here and here.  And there are a number of firms with strong products in this area – Trade Extensions and CombineNet being the two specialist market leaders, whilst BravoSolution, Iasta and Emptoris all offer good capability as part of their wider offering.

And keep your fingers crossed for my onions, leeks, potatoes and spinach, which will all need to be planted soon if I'm going to get any sort of crop in 2013!

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