Growers in the south of Spain are counting the cost of a devastating hailstorm that collapsed over 1,000 hectares of tunnels and wiped out entire crops.
Storm Gloria hit the Almeria region of southern Spain last week (22 January), where many vegetable, salad and other fresh produce growers are based. The storm was also responsible for the death of nine people, the Guardian reported, as high winds, snow, rainfall and huge waves hit buildings and other infrastructure.
Around 1,000 hectares of glasshouses and polytunnels were decimated in Almeria, with further damage in Valencia and Alicante said to have hit thousands more.
The storm lasted only an hour but with hailstones up to 1cm in diameter it left a trail of destruction as tunnels collapsed and caused landslides onto crops. Courgettes, aubergines and bell peppers are among the worst hit, as well as cabbages, broccoli and onions in the outdoor fields.
Spain is the main supplier of vegetables and salad to the UK during the winter months and shortages are expected to have knock-on effects on supply for staple vegetables over the next few months.
Family-run organic vegetable grower Naturcharc, and supplier to veg box company Riverford, estimated around 16 hectares of damage to its glasshouses, while a thick layer of hail remained on the soil and froze to become ice, causing more issues. Total damage is yet to be fully calculated, the company said, but estimated that in one hour the storm had “wiped out months of work”.
“While growers will have insurance for tunnel rebuilding, the crops themselves are not covered as no one expects damage on this scale to happen,” said Flemming Anderson, Riverford’s fresh produce manager in Spain and Italy. “We are here to help the growers and will source what they ask us to source, and not only what we want them to deliver.”
Many outdoor field crops, such as cabbage, are not yet accessible due to the storm damage but suffered widespread flooding. The disaster struck only months after growers in the same area were hit by heavy flooding in September of last year, wiping out much of the leafy salad crops, such as spinach.
Fresh produce buyer for Riverford, Steve Monk, said shortages are expected as a result of the storm, but it’s too early to predict exactly what. “Several of our long-standing grower partners in Spain have been affected by the storm and we are supporting them as much as possible,” he said. “There are likely to be some shortages coming up as the British autumn growing season was early, and it’s looking like an earlier than usual ‘Hungry Gap’.”
The Hungry Gap is the name given to the annual period during April and May just ahead of the summer UK growing season, and after the winter crops have ended.