Extreme weather events in Europe to hit food supply chains

06 June 2024 Consultancy.uk 3 min. read

The number of extreme weather events in Europe has increased by almost half over the last two years. The continent, including the UK, saw more than 16,000 events in between 2023 and 2024 – compared to 11,000 between 2021 and 2022.

Farming in the UK faces an uncertain future. In particular, the increasing impact of climate change on farming, largely in the shape of a rise in extreme weather events, is already having a huge impact on the sector. Scottish farmers were particularly hard hit in 2018, for example, losing more than £161 million to the impact of extreme weather conditions in one year, according to an industry study from Ecosulis. In the time since, farmers have been scrambling to find ways of adapting to climate change.

Further underscoring the importance of that process, a new study from Inverto – part of Boston Consulting Group – has found that Europe is facing a mounting crisis when it comes to weather events. In the 12 months leading to February 2022, the study found that there were 11,442 such events – but in the 12 months until February 2024, that had grown by 48% to 16,956. This jump in extreme weather reports confirms the trend of increasing extreme weather events in Europe, with the researchers noting number of large hailstorms alone had also increased 72% in the same period, from 4,277 to 7,343.

Extreme weather events in Europe rise 48% to nearly 17,000 for 2021/22 – 2023/24 period

Source: Inverto

Katharina Erfort, a principal at Inverto, commented, “As extreme weather events increase in frequency and intensity, there will be more disruption to food supply chains. It is therefore essential that businesses learn lessons from recent events and install robust to prepare for future disruptions. Businesses should invest in strong risk identification and management tools to identify where food supplies are originating from and how they might be impacted by future extreme weather events. Buyers should also look to diversify their supply base across different regions, especially those with less correlated weather.”

With Europe still reeling from the last two years of the cost-of-living crisis, it is also important to note that extreme weather events can impact the production of food crops both in Europe and globally, leading to a shortage of products on shelves for consumers – and costly price spikes. Turning back to the hailstorms, Inverto noted that one such storm alone in the last year caused €40 million of damage to crops in the Valencia region of Spain.

At the same time, Italy cultivates 50% of the rice produced in the EU – and experienced a climate-induced shortfall in 2023, following years of successive droughts, and a flood. This also impacted Europe’s potato production, as heavy rain in Northern Europe in autumn 2023 severely damaged potato fields in Belgium, France, and the UK, creating shortages and pushing up prices. Prices for Maris Piper potatoes alone soared 158% in the year to December 2023, according to Inverto.

According to the researchers, inertia among businesses on this issue could result in continued future volatility in food supplies and price increases for consumers. So what can businesses do to mitigate the growing risks posed by extreme weather?

To that end, Erfort concluded, “As global weather patterns become less predictable, growers need to explore how they can mitigate the impact of weather events on their crops. For example, if growers know due to good forecasting that there is a hailstorm, can they harvest in advance? Or are there materials/methods they can deploy to protect their crops? In such an event, growers can install hail resistant nets, or deploy poly tunnels in advance to protect their crops from the worst effects of extreme weather.”