“Ithese are not rain boots and trolleys,” laughs Andy Roe, head of tomato production at Flavourfresh Salads, a grower just outside Southport in northwest England. Thanks to the state-of-the-art hydroponic greenhouse complex equipped with Barbie Pink LEDs (to leads) instead of the sun. Tens of meters long, hanging above hot water pipes and feeding on a steady stream of carbon dioxide, the vines are very different from their slender, compost-bag cousins characteristic of British conservatories.
Flavourfresh not only supplies greengrocers, but also benefits from an on-site micro-power plant called cogeneration (chipset) unit, which also provides electricity to four surrounding villages. That means tomatoes are as deep into global energy markets as the soil of Lancashire: chipset Use natural gas purchased from wholesale markets and sell electricity to the national grid.carbon dioxide from chipset Pollutants are removed and pumped into greenhouses where they are photosynthesized to produce sugar—the tomatoes gobble up tons of greenhouse gas. The water used to cool the equipment is pumped around the nursery and reproduces a climate closer to the plants’ native Mexico than the typical February climate in the UK.pink to leadThe electrically powered s produce the precise spectrum of sunlight that tomatoes love.
To understand why Britain’s salads are out, think of the tomato as a form of energy storage rather than a fruit. Raw energy can come from ambient solar energy striking the Earth, captured by glass in greenhouses, or produced by burning fossil fuels. Solar-powered tomatoes are the most efficient; Canadian scientist Vaclav Smil estimates that a typical 125-gram example would require 22 kcal of extra energy to grow in a sunny field compared to the energy gained from eating it Much the same. Tomatoes grown in heated greenhouses in northern Europe may require 150 times the energy it provides as food. One kilogram of these tomatoes requires the energy equivalent of one liter of diesel.
Salad in the UK is the collateral damage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Growers rely on adequate heating to keep their greenhouses warm and, in winter, to provide adequate lighting for subtropical plants. Many companies in the UK have closed their doors as gas prices have started to rise. By January, tomato prices were 35 percent higher than they were two years ago. In February, the crisis became so severe that supermarkets restricted sales.
The shortage is not a problem unique to the UK. Many growers in the Netherlands have called it a day. In addition to higher electricity bills, the war also raised the cost of fertilizers. Meanwhile, an unseasonably warm autumn in Spain reduced plantings. Meanwhile, production in Morocco and North Africa has been affected by tomato brown wrinkle virus and bad weather.
However, unusually, UK supermarkets have begun rationing salads. On 27 February, low-cost supermarket Lidl announced a limit of three tomatoes, cucumbers or peppers per person. Expats and continental Europeans keen to blame Brexit took to social media to share taunting photos of well-stocked supermarket shelves and dubbed the problem Vegxit.
Difficulties in cross-border trade certainly don’t help, but rationing should be blamed more on excessive competition in UK supermarkets; smaller stores are usually well stocked. For larger clothing stores, fresh vegetables are a way to attract customers into the store, while supermarkets would rather sell products at low prices than make customers pay eye-watering prices.
Natural Gas Powering Flavourfresh chipset Purchased via forward contract, power sold months in advance; guaranteed investor ownership chipset return. The cherry tomatoes currently being picked are sold under contract to a large supermarket in the UK. This provides growers with the certainty that production will continue throughout the winter. “Farming is always a gamble,” Mr Lo said of the weather, the health of crops and especially this year’s global energy markets. However, scientific knowledge has helped growers succeed. ■
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