Farmers have warned of a potential shortage of British leeks, partly due to coronavirus, as people in Wales get ready to mark St David’s Day.
The vegetable is one of the national symbol of Wales, along with the daffodil, and can be worn as a badge by those marking the annual celebration on March 1 as well as being used in traditional Welsh meals such as cawl, and leek and potato soup.
But the UK’s supply is now said to have almost run out due to a 15% surge in demand as more people cook from home during the pandemic, coupled with last spring’s cold temperatures which led to smaller crops.
On Thursday, the British Leek Growers’ Association said suppliers are having to import more expensive continental leeks from places like the Netherlands to “fill the void” and meet demand in time for Wales’s national day.
Chairman Stewart Aspinall told the PA news agency: “This unexpected growth in demand, coupled with a harsh spring in 2020, which affected seed populations, means that we’re experiencing a shortfall, with supply ending earlier than normal.
“There should be leeks on the shelves, but if people want to keep eating them they might not be able to find British ones.
“And it’s at a time when the vast majority of the population are looking to buy more locally sourced produce rather than international ones with a higher carbon footprint.”
Nic Joseph, owner of Ritec Valley Organics in Penally, Pembrokeshire, which delivers boxes of its own produce to customers, said his leek crops ran out around two weeks ago.
He told PA: “We are selling some wholesale leeks to a couple of people but not with the box scheme.
“I’d be quite sad if people couldn’t buy Welsh produce in Welsh supermarkets if they were looking for stuff for St David’s Day.”
Tim Casey, who grows leeks for his Bomber County Produce business in Coningsby, Lincolnshire, said suppliers to supermarkets are having to cast their nets as far as Turkey and Spain to make sure orders are fulfilled.
He said he and other leek growers’ crops are down 20% from previous years, while orders are between 10% and 20% up.
Mr Casey said: “It’s not so bad bringing them from Belgium, Holland perhaps, which would be a couple of days on a lorry and of course now you’ve probably got a day at Dover.
“But from Turkey you’ve got two or three days over land before you even get to the Channel, so the freshness definitely won’t be there. You can justifiably say British has better quality and better freshness, and is more sustainable.”
But David Petersen, chairman of the National St David’s Day Parade, said there are alternatives available for anyone not able to get their hands on their leek of choice.
Mr Petersen, whose parade will not be able to march through Cardiff city centre on March 1 for the first time in 20 years due to Covid restrictions, said: “St David was renowned for eating just bread and water only.
“So we are encouraging people to have a St David’s Day lunch of bread and water, and donate the cost difference between that and what they would normally eat to the Marie Curie cancer charity.”
The leek as a national symbol of Wales is believed to go back to the times of druids, centuries before the Romans invaded Britain.
They were referred to by Shakespeare in his play Henry V, where the king tells Welsh warrior Fluellen that he wears a leek because “I am Welsh, good countryman”.