It isn't Christmas until you've been bashed over the head with a sprout stick in the Morrisons self-checkout queue or a zany TV chef has demanded you cook your sprouts with cinnamon-fermented anchovies for "a funky festive twist!" Brussels sprouts—and the debate over whether they're a Christmas dinner staple or flatulence-inducing cabbage spawn served to appease elderly relatives—are as integral to Christmas as Body Shop panic-buys and spending three hours untangling fairy lights.
British farmers have warned that they may struggle to produce enough Brussels sprouts this year after crops were ravaged by "super-pest" moths during the summer.
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The diamondback moth arrived in the UK from Europe earlier this year. The bug is resistant to insecticides so caused huge damage to Brussels sprouts crops, as well as cabbages and cauliflowers. One of the biggest vegetables growers in the Channel Islands lost its entire Christmas sprout supply earlier this month and now, farms in Lincolnshire—responsible for growing almost two-thirds of the country's sprouts—are also reporting losses.
Mike Capps, a farmer near the Lincolnshire town of Boston, told the BBC: "We've had the biggest pile of damaged sprouts ever seen. We've actually had one field where we have thrown away about 60 percent of the crop, so we are below production cost."
Maybe tell Nan to hold off on her special sprout casserole this year.
The National Farmers Union confirmed that some sprout farms had experienced problems with weather and pests this year. A spokesperson told the Guardian: "This is an incredibly busy period for sprout producers, when the demand increases significantly for a relatively short part of the total growing season. It is not unusual for there to be weather- and pest-related challenges, which have the potential to impact on yield but growers and retailers work closely together to ensure that consumers will be able to get sprouts over the festive period."
The NFU added that retailer size specifications may be relaxed this year to allow farmers to sell smaller or imperfect sprouts.
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However many supermarkets have been quick to assure customers that Brussels sprout supplies will not be impacted in the run-up to Christmas. Waitrose has promised a 100-percent British sprout supply this year, while Sainsbury's and Lidl have said they do not anticipate any shortages of the vegetable.
Richard Mowbray of Lincolnshire vegetable suppliers TH Clements, also told the Guardian: "We are currently harvesting 1 million sprouts every day, which is the equivalent of 200 tonnes. The yield is slightly down on previous years but consumers won't be disappointed. There will be plenty to go round."
It's a Christmas miracle.