There has been a lot of excitement recently with the news that sweet potatoes are now being grown in Britain – particularly regarding the thought that this will cut down on the vegetable’s carbon footprint.
Here at Rush we are very conscious of food miles, carbon footprint and are proud supporters of British grown food, but we can’t help but feel that the way this story has been reported is a little over-simplistic.
Whilst we agree that not having to import sweet potatoes from America will obviously decrease the vegetables carbon footprint when it comes to transport, fresh produce’s CO2 emissions don’t come solely from this stage of the cycle. It is highly likely that these sweet potatoes will be grown in heated polythene tunnels, using special mulch – both of which emit a large amount of carbon dioxide.
It’s only a guess, but we suspect that the yield per acre for British sweet potatoes is going to be far less than their American cousins, where the average is 15-20 tonne an acre. This lower yield translates again into a proportionally higher carbon dioxide emission per acre for the British grown varieties.
So whilst we are very excited about locally grown sweet potatoes and support everyone involved, we believe that it will take another five to ten years, with significant agronomy and technical advances, before we can truly grow a sweet potato with less of a carbon footprint than those imported from USA, Honduras, Spain, Portugal, Egypt and Israel.
Rush thinks it would be great if Britain grew their own sweet potatoes, but to do that would require someone producing breeds and varieties that can actually grow naturally in the local climate. That is probably a long way off – and by the way, if it isn’t we would love to hear from you.