The National Farmers Union (NFU) is calling on supermarkets to accept more ‘wonky veg’, with crop quality expected to be impacted by drought.

Due to drought in many parts of the UK, produce on shelves could become smaller and take on a different appearance as we enter autumn – with carrots, onions, potatoes, apples and Brussels sprouts expected to be most affected.

Jeremy Knox, professor of agricultural water management at Cranfield University, told the BBC the British public can expect to see a difference in quality of produce as a result of consecutive heatwaves; he cited potatoes as an example, saying they could be smaller and bear more defects on their skins.

The NFU says supermarkets should extend more flexibility to growers, while they deal with the knock-effects of a hot, dry summer which has stunted the growth of many crops. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) confirms arrangements are already in place: “Retailers understand weather conditions have been a challenge and have taken steps to support their farmers. This includes expanding ranges of odd-size/shape fruit and veg when needed,” comments Hannah Dougherty, food policy advisor at the BRC.

Consumers have been conditioned to believe that a potato looks a certain way

But while vegetables may be visually altered this winter, points out Tom Bradshaw, vice president, NFU, they ‘will taste the same’.

“Consumers have been conditioned to believe that a potato looks a certain way, comments Bradshaw, adding that ‘we need to be more relaxed about appearance’ if we are to avoid further price rises during the cost of living crisis.

NFU president Minette Batters has also written an open letter to Conservative Party leadership candidates Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, urging them to ‘take seriously’ the ambitions of the National Food Strategy, and emphasizing the importance of domestic food production. “Spiralling input costs, uncertainty about future support schemes and a focus on species reintroduction at such a critical time means that farmers’ confidence about the future is low. My members will therefore be looking to you during this campaign to see what you will offer our sector and the rural areas we underpin.

“I am confident that with the right policies and by working together, farmers can achieve so much for our country – not just by providing high quality and climate-friendly food, but also protecting and enhancing our environment. We are ambitious to deliver on all fronts, but that ambition must be matched with honesty and certainty about the future,” Batters writes.

‘Stunted crops’ 

Discounter supermarket LIDL has confirmed it plans to start selling ‘stunted crops’ in a big to support British farmers affected by summer drought.

The chain says it is part of the company’s wider efforts to tackle food waste.

Ryan McDonnell, LIDL chief executive, comments: “Farmers across the country are facing a big challenge this year due to the extreme weather conditions experienced over the summer months.

“Whilst the crop coming out may look and feel a bit different to what we’re all used to, it’s still the same great British quality.”