Weather gets blame for poor crop of sprouts

Banbury Cake: Les Britten in a field of Brussels sprouts at Millet's Farm, in Frilford Buy this photo » Les Britten in a field of Brussels sprouts at Millet's Farm, in Frilford

IF you’re wondering why the Brussels sprouts on your dinner table are a meagre offering tomorrow, look no further than this year’s appalling weather.

In what has been a dismal year for produce growers, sprouts are the latest casualty, and suppliers are predicting a shortage across the country in the run-up to tomorrow.

Snow and freezing temperatures have meant the harvest has been abandoned in parts of Norfolk, Lincolnshire and much of the south east of England – the main growing area for sprouts.

And here in Oxfordshire, the few growers who do produce them, say growing sprouts has been a battle.

Caroline Tyler, 50, is a partner at The Old Farm Shop in Harwell.

She said: “Heavy rain meant we had to re-plant our sprout crop twice this year to get any crop at all.

“But we still only have half the amount we would normally hope for and most of them are much smaller than usual.

“This has to be the least amount of sprouts we have had in the 12 years since I have been here.”

However, Les Britten, the vegetable manager at Millet’s Farm in nearby Frilford, Abingdon, claims that while the sprouts are smaller, they taste better.

He said: “We grew four varieties this year – Claudius, Columbus, Maximus and Revenge, with 3,900 plants of each variety in 0.2 of a hectare.

“And while the weather has meant the vegetables are smaller than usual, they are actually proving to be sweeter tasting.”

“We would advise people to simply buy double the number of stalks they normally would.”

Despite the challenging weather conditions, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said farmers have been working around the clock to ensure sprouts and other produce are available during the yuletide period.

NFU senior campaigns adviser Gemma Fitzpatrick said: “Over 3,000 hectares of land is used to grow Brussels sprouts in the UK and 14,428,000kg of sprouts will be making their way to people’s tables.”

Mrs Tyler said sprouts were an important part of Christmas lunch, whether you liked them or not. “I have four sons and one of them can’t stand sprouts. But even he has to have just the one on his plate because it’s Christmas,” she said.

The price of Brussels sprouts has risen by 69.4 per cent since 2008, research carried out for trade magazine The Grocer has shown.

Loose sprouts cost £1.24 per kg in 2008 but have jumped to £2.10 per kg this year.

The price has rise by 24 per cent in the last year alone.

  • Brussels sprouts are part of the brassica family, which also includes cabbages, broccoli, kale and kohlrabi.

They were developed from wild cabbage and came from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.

The vegetable was named after the Belgian capital of Brussels after becoming popular in the city in the 16th century. Brussels sprouts were not introduced to Britain until the late 19th century.

Sprouts contain high-levels of vitamins A and C, folic acid and dietary fibre, and help protect against colon and stomach cancer.

Half a pound of sprouts contains just 80 calories and the 18th century  explorer Captain Cook made his ship's crews eat sprouts to combat scurvy, which is caused by lack of vitamin C.

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