Ornamental horticultural industry facing crisis point over Covid-19 lockdown

The ornamental horticultural industry is facing a crisis point which will severely impact the availability of British grown seasonal plants and flowers, according to the Horticultural Trade Association (HTA).

The sector, which is a major part of the gardening industry and is worth £1.4bn, could see lost plant sales worth up to £687m by the end of June and if it continues £1.2bn by the end of December.

The HTA claims that while the government’s financial measures related to the agriculture and horticulture firms are welcome, in many cases they are not suitable for ornamental businesses. Investment in stock means that many nurseries do not have the reserves to take on the debt of a government loan, and often fall out of the scope of any support scheme due to EU state aid rules.

The perishability and seasonality of plants means that the sector potentially faces total stock write off, and hundreds of UK growers face a complete loss of income.

Since Mother’s Day weekend when demand is typically high. sales dwindled dramatically as consumers followed self-isolation guidelines.

The current lock down means that there is unlikely to be any sales through to the May bank holiday, which the busiest trading period of the year for the sector, which supplies bulbs, bedding plants, cut flowers, pot plants and whose stock is mostly sold through garden centres, supermarkets, florists and DIY stores.

Around 70% of bedding plant sales are made between March and the end of May. Many of these growers could face huge difficulties and a near complete loss of income due to the coronavirus.

Speaking on behalf of the HTA, chairman James Barnes said: “We have hit a perfect storm in the UK. The seasonality and perishability that is unique to our industry means that growers are potentially facing stock losses on an ever-rising scale as each day passes. Stock is one of the biggest components of asset value in the sector – stock write offs will destroy the balance sheets of many and make it impossible for them to continue.

“We are calling for the government to work with the HTA, as the industry’s representative body, to come up with a financial support scheme to help those businesses which have had to scrap perishable stock and are facing a huge financial crisis.

“For those that can stay in business, there are also significant longer term issues as growers may not have time to plant next year’s crop, leading to a two year supply hit on the whole industry including retail, which will severely impact the availability of British grown seasonal plants and flowers.”

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