28 August 1998

Factories hit by slump in vining pea harvest

VINING pea harvesting is the most difficult in 25 years, a legacy of disrupted drilling and season-long husbandry headaches.

Spring rains meant a three-week gap in drilling which has hit harvest schedules hard. Lack of fit crops has forced Fisher Frozen Foods to close its factory for 2-3 days at a time, compared with normal 24 hour operation.

"It is the most difficult harvest ever," adds Colin Wright, agricultural manager for Birdseye. Although harvesting started close to schedule it is set to run into September for the first time ever in the Hull factory area. The Scottish harvest has yet to start, notes Simon Warr of Fisher Frozen Foods.

Yields are averaging 4.1t/ha (33cwt/acre), compared with a more typical 5t/ha (40cwt/acre), leaving UK production down 20-25%, vegetable processors estimate. But quality is good.

The UK market is expected to be slightly short. Similar problems hitting other producers in northern Europe. "Overall, this could lead to an imbalance of grades to meet market demand," says Mr Wright.

To achieve cost-effective production next year cropping areas may well need realigning to improve long term viability, Mr Wright says. &#42