Lack of rain causes mixed results for Isle of Wight growers

Photos of Living Larder, Garlic Farm and John Knox Farms.

Photos of Living Larder, Garlic Farm and John Knox Farms.

Dry fields and no prospect of rain have led to devastation for some of the island’s farmers – with many crops failing, irrigation fuel costs soaring and water supplies severely dwindled.

The heat has caused more than a headache for many growers.

John Knox grows potatoes on his 250 acres in Shorwell and his hugely successful business has suffered so much this year that now there’s nothing else he can do – he’s out of water.

He supplies potatoes to McCains for McDonalds and has just finished this year’s contract for KP Crisps for McCoys with the last load coming out on Wednesday.

Isle of Wight County Press: Potatoes being harvested by John Knox Farms.

Isle of Wight County Press: Potatoes being harvested by John Knox Farms.

He said: “We’ve used up pretty much all of our irrigation water and our crops have dropped by 15 to 20 percent. There’s nothing we can do, our reservoirs are empty. Any rain is welcome, but it will come too late for us.

“Usually during a season you’ll get a little bit of rain, but we haven’t had any significant rains since March, and that followed a pretty dry winter.

“Fuel costs are crazy now, so irrigation costs a lot. Last year we irrigated only once and this year six times.”

He said potato prices cannot go up because people will not buy them and the income will be wasted.

Isle of Wight County Press: John Knox Farms picking potatoes this week.

Isle of Wight County Press: John Knox Farms picking potatoes this week.

John Knox Farms picking potatoes this week.

Another problem is that harvesting machines need wetter conditions to work, so they damage some of the potatoes as they struggle to harvest on dry land.

This makes potatoes harder to sell and causes more rejections.

John said: “75 percent of my potato crop is grown under contract and leaves the Island. 25 percent will remain on the Island to supply local stores and fish and chips stores throughout the year, which means I was able to keep two or three full-time employees throughout the year.”

At Living Larder, they are not so dependent on one crop, but grow between 40 and 50 throughout the year, which brings different challenges.

While tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplants are thriving happily during the dry season, many other products are stressed and not behaving as they should.

Will Steward, owner/manager of the family business, said: “It’s been very difficult. We used half a million liters of water in July, the same amount we would use in a normal season.

“The cost of this is an additional 40 hours of work per week for me, managing irrigation on top of everything else that needs to be done.

“We irrigate from our own pond, so we’re self-sufficient, but the cost of the fuel that drives the pump cost us more.”

Isle of Wight County Press: Irrigation in Living Larder.

Isle of Wight County Press: Irrigation in Living Larder.

Irrigation in Living Larder.

There will be a knock-on effect for winter crops, which are normally planted in summer – they are not getting off to a good start.

He said: “Farmers deal with weather conditions all the time and are quite adaptable, but we just need a good amount of rain. Just two days of heavy rain would make a huge difference.

“So we need the pond to refill to put us in a good place next year.

“The last time we got such a low water supply was in the early 1990s, so it’s pretty rare.”

The situation is clearer at Fazenda Alho – where weather conditions are helping to produce “exceptional quality” production.

Farmer Colin Boswell said the entire team was harvesting this week.

Isle of Wight County Press: Harvest at Garlic Farm.  From left, Barnaby Edwards, joint managing director, Feras Al O'Baidi, farm manager, Joanna Hambleton, field worker, and Natasha Edwards, joint managing director.

Isle of Wight County Press: Harvest at Garlic Farm. From left, Barnaby Edwards, joint managing director, Feras Al O’Baidi, farm manager, Joanna Hambleton, field worker, and Natasha Edwards, joint managing director.

Harvest at the Alho Farm. From left, Barnaby Edwards, joint managing director, Feras Al O’Baidi, farm manager, Joanna Hambleton, field worker, and Natasha Edwards, joint managing director.

He said: “I’ve been growing garlic for 50 years and I’ve never had what I would call a Mediterranean summer – even in 1976 it wasn’t like that.

“We’d like a little more rain, but you can’t have it all.

“We can be grateful for the harvest of quality garlic, the size is good and we have rare heritage types of exceptional quality, probably no one else in the country is growing it.

“We do want to see some rain, though.”

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