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Let's talk tomatoes

From the desk of Dan Green, Rugby Borough Council Deputy Chief Executive and Climate Change Advocate

Like most people, I’ve found it harder to find certain fruit and vegetables in supermarkets and greengrocers recently.

Peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce……..all seem to be harder than usual to find and Rugby’s supermarkets have not been no exception, with a some having empty veg shelves and others limiting purchases.

Reports have suggested that the UK imports up to 95% of its tomatoes in winter months, however crop yields in areas such as southern Spain and Morocco have been lower than usual due to adverse weather conditions.

It’s unclear as to how long these difficulties will last, however they do give an opportunity to reflect on the climate impact of year-round consumption and how can we address similar food supply challenges in the future.

So……..let’s talk tomatoes.

Tomatoes appear to be in a particularly short supply and are a crop for which the UK relies heavily on import during the winter months. I thought it would be helpful to look at this more closely in this blog.

Whilst recognising that the current shortage may be due to a short term shock weather event, rather than a long term trend, there are suggestions that we may see similar shortages in tomato production in the future.

A study published in the nature journal has suggested that increases in air temperature and water resource constraints in tomato growing regions could reduce yields by 6% by 2050.

This may manifest sooner than expected, with National Geographic reporting that 2021 saw a significant decline in yield, due to hotter than usual temperatures.

But, it isn’t just tomatoes. There are numerous reports which suggest that other crops, such as corn and wheat will be similarly impacted by long term climate change and shock weather events.

With this in mind, we need to give serious thought to our approach to food and how it may need to change in the future.

Food Systems and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

We know that food systems are responsible for up to one third of global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and that in the UK there are a variety of causes of this. The diagram below helpfully explains these.

A Waste Resources Action Partnership (WRAP) report that food related Greenhouse Gasses (GHG) can be reduced. It provides an analysis of the total GHG emissions linked to the production and consumption of food & drink consumed in the UK and estimates of further emissions reductions that could be achievable by 2030.

The report estimates that total UK food system emissions in 2019 were estimated to be 158 Mt CO2e - equivalent to 35% of UK territorial emissions.

Reducing these emissions by up to 50% is possible, however achieving this will require action at ace to ensure that existing policy, business or sector-level commitments and targets are delivered. This action includes:

  • Ensuring a continued focus on decarbonisation of operational emissions.
  • Developing a better understanding of wider supply chain emissions.
  • Achieving zero deforestation commitments in supply chains
  • Taking action on food waste.
  • Influencing consumer behaviours.

Taking Action on Food Waste

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) suggest that globally, 17% of available food is wasted.


In 2019, this amounted to 931 million tonnes of food sold to households and businesses - a considerable waste of resources and production of unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions.


In the UK alone, 70% of food waste comes from homes and up to 36 million tonnes of Greenhouse Gas Emissions could be prevented by reducing this. 

The Environment Act 2021 sets into law a forthcoming requirement that food waste must be collected on a weekly basis by all Waste Collection authorities (such as Rugby Borough Council), however a more environmentally and financially beneficial solution is to eliminate food waste from households.


The ‘LoveFoodHateWaste’ programme gives some helpful advice on how individuals can save money, reduce emissions and help preserve natural resources by reducing food waste.


Where food waste does arise, then home composting offers a sustainable solution for dealing with food waste. Our friends at Garden Organic provide some very useful advice about getting started with composting.


Growing Your Own

At about this time of year, I usually start planting some seeds, ready to harvest fruit and veg in the summer months.


I only have a small garden and no greenhouse, and so am a bit restricted in what I can grow. Despite this, and with limited gardening experience, I manage to regularly grow tomatoes (I tend to go for the dwarf/ patio varieties), courgettes, salad leaves and potatoes. Fortunately for me, our friends at Garden Organic once again provide some really easy to follow advice on how to grow your own.


Last year was a bumper year for tomatoes and I actually ended up with more than I could eat so decided to look at how I could use them through the winter months. There were lots of suggestions online and I eventually managed to produce my own sun dried tomatoes, tomato chutney (ideal for Christmas for presents!) and pasta sauce to freeze.

For the more adventurous, allotments provide an opportunity to grow on a larger scale. There is a wealth of research which highlights the physical and mental heath benefits of allotment gardening, as well as the social, environmental and financial benefits.

Seasonal Eating

I read with interest that the Environment Secretary, Therese Coffey recently suggested that we ought to be eating turnips at this time of year. Whilst perhaps a simplistic headline, I do agree that seaseonal eating is something which we can all consider.

It has become the norm for us to be able to buy pretty much any fruit or vegetables throughout the year but there are benefits to eating products that are in season, including:

  • A reduction in transport related emissions
  • A more cost effective option
  • Higher nutrient retention
  • Supporting the local community and economy

There a various online guides to help with this as well as advice on what is in season.

In the short term, we may have to adapt to the current shortages, but in the longer term, there are a number of actions that we need to look at across the food system to understand how we can reduce the impacts which food has on the environment and adapt our eating habits to a changing climate.

If you have any views on this subject or hints and tips you would like to share, then please do get in touch.