Growers are encouraged to champion their Allium crops as we enter peak leek and onion season.

Arysta LifeScience’s Technical Lead for Vegetables is Business Manager Alison Casey (pictured).

Alison’s husband grows leeks and asparagus at their family farm in Lincolnshire. Here Alison discusses the challenges faced this past year.

Alison Casey – Arysta LifeScience Technical Lead for Vegetables:

“British leeks are in now in season and it’s down to all of us to champion this often neglected vegetable. It’s been a tough season. A cool sun-less summer has been followed by an uncharacteristically mild autumn, meaning not only are leeks smaller than usual, but consumer interest hasn’t been booming either.

Because of this mild start to autumn, shoppers are late to turn to family favourites such as warming stews, soups and casseroles, all of which leeks are often a key ingredient for. But leeks are so much more than a filler for soup, they are a great source of iron and their delicate flavour is often more subtle than its cousin the onion.

Leeks aren’t a cheap vegetable to grow, and because this season’s crop is small, growers will be working through their harvest more quickly to meet supermarket quotas. Unlike other vegetables, growers forecast to produce only what the supermarkets need, to avoid expensive waste. A smaller crop means there’s every possibility growers are having to buy in additional leeks to meet orders.

And the challenges don’t stop there. With many revocations, a lack of suitable chemistry has meant that weeds are even more difficult to control. By nature, leeks aren’t particularly competitive. Herbicides effective for hardier vegetables will over-power leeks, while ignoring the weeds will also kill them! They’re simply not very easy to grow.

So why bother? Many growers enjoy a challenge and there is a lot of skill involved in successfully growing leeks. There’s also not that many of us in the UK, with only a handful of commercial growers. A recent campaign has been launched to promote leeks and the many health benefits that they offer and it’s hoped that this will boost purchasing habits.

Growers will also be looking to complete their onion harvest, and for this crop, post-harvest quality is often a concern. Without preventative measures, onions will happily sprout in the field, in transit and in storage! This leads to a reduction in bulb quality and shelf life, and ultimately, rejection before making the supermarket shelves.

But it’s easy to avoid this, by using sprout suppressant chemistry such as maleic hydrazide, which can be foliar-applied up to seven days before harvest. This active ingredient is in Arysta LifeScience’s Fazor, and is also a great tool for those looking to control sprouting in potatoes.

It might have been a difficult year for leeks, but I’m yet to lose faith in this highly versatile vegetable.”

Support and find out more about the national Healthy Leeks campaign here.