Extreme weather ravaging the UK challenges food industry

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

As extreme heat and dorught ravage the UK, how is the food and drink supply chain coping?
As extreme heat and dorught ravage the UK, how is the food and drink supply chain coping?

Related tags Meat & Seafood Supply chain vertical farming

As extreme weather and drought ravage the UK, we look at the challenges the record temperatures and potential water shortages have had on the food and drink industry.

British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) chief executive Nick Allen said the biggest concern its members was that farmers were being forced to eat into their stocks of feed reserved for the winter, as crops become harder to cultivate in the extreme heat. 

“This on the back of a difficult spring and the fact that fertiliser prices virtually doubled after the start of the Ukraine crisis, which meant that they would have lower stocks in the first place,”​ he added, 

“It has created a really worrying scenario. To add to the challenge cereal prices have also increased considerably which means farmers’ options are really limited.” 

BMPA members are now anticipating they may get offered a high percentage of under finished animals, creating a host of problems in the processing plants and will make fulfilling orders challenging. 

Challenging autumn 

“Coupled with the issues around energy supplies and labour we are heading towards one of the most challenging autumn and winter periods the industry has seen for a long time,​ Allen continued.  

The cold supply chain has also been feeling the brunt of the extreme heat pounding the UK. What’s worse, the repeated heat waves have come at a time when energy costs have skyrocketed, proving to be a one-two punch of challenges for supply chain operators. 

Cold Chain Federation policy director Tom Southall admitted that the industry has had to draw on its resilience to keep food supplies flowing under adversity. 

“During hot weather refrigeration systems have to work extremely hard, and cold chain operators are increasing inspections and maintenance and reducing heat ingress wherever possible to keep equipment running reliably,”​ he explained.  

Enormous strain 

“Amidst sky high energy prices, this summer’s heatwaves are placing an enormous strain on cold chain operations and costs. Our recent Cold Chain Report shows energy costs in cold storage have more than doubled in the last year, so the cost pressure of this increased energy demand is huge.” 

Smaller and medium-sized business have been hit the worst by these challenges, due to a lesser ability to absorb costs and less negotiating power with their customers.  

“We are urging the Government to support the food chain by guaranteeing energy supply for the cold chain in the event of blackouts, expanding the Energy Intensive Industries (EII) Compensation Scheme to include all cold storage, and considering direct assistance for smaller businesses,” ​Southall added. 

 “Another impact of the warm weather is high demand for frozen products such as ice cream and BBQ food which increases capacity levels at frozen cold stores, this is normal for this time of year and supply chains are well prepared for increased demand.” 

Vertical farming  

Hope is not completely lost though, and the warm weather and drought warnings haven’t completely crippled the food and drink supply chain. Vertical farming – a relatively new development in the world of food and drink – seems to be a solution for businesses worried about sourcing key ingredients. 

Due to their nature as being small, compact systems that operate indoors, food manufacturers can integrate a vertical farm into their existing production sites. Examples cases include Food Manufacture Excellence Awards winner Raynor Foods’s Chelmsford site and a vertical farm at Heck’s Kirklington factory. 

Pentadel’s managing director James Kemp, who helped develop Infarm’s Growing Centre in Bedford, weighed in on the benefits of vertical farms. 

“Vertical farms are a perfect solution in a heatwave and during times of drought as the crops are grown within a constantly controlled environment – so there's never a heatwave in a vertical farming environment and therefore no extra water is required to successfully cultivate during these adverse times,​” said Kemp. 

“The water used is also recirculated within this environment and reused, therefore saving water.  At the Infarm facility they have been able to reduce water consumption by 95% versus traditional agricultural methods.” 

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