26 March 2020
Sales for ornamentals growers are expected to be down around 50% this year with some expecting a far greater fall in sales. 96% of countries responding predict their industry will be severely impacted. In a joint effort, the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) and FloraCulture International Magazine have surveyed its grower association members and other industry associations to understand the impact of COVID-19 and what is happening in different countries.
Although still early into the crisis for many countries the timing is critical with the normally busy Spring season and many flower-giving celebrations being directly hit. 70% of respondents expect to see growers going out of business this year and 65% expect to see significant cuts in staffing by nurseries. Financial losses in the Netherlands could be as high as 2 billion euros.
Government policy decisions for controlling the virus have had a dramatic impact on businesses with measures like the cancellation of seasonal worker programmes and the enforced closure of Garden Centres in some countries. Exporting countries have suffered as borders have been closed and supply chains collapsed producing huge volumes of waste product for many.
Most associations are actively lobbying their governments for urgent additional support for growers and some governments are offering loans, guarantees for existing loans, payment of salaries, or tax delays. In many cases, more direct cash support will be required to keep businesses going. Some associations are lobbying to get Garden Centres categorised as ‘essential’, enabling them to remain open, and many are working to promote the health and well-being benefits of plants and flowers and calling on the public to support the industry where buying product is still possible.
In a message of support to members, AIPH President Bernard Oosterom said “First and foremost our thoughts are with those affected by the virus, those caring for sick people and those that have lost loved ones. As an industry, we must abide by all the expert guidance relating to measures to control the disease and of course, put people first.” He highlighted the serious economic consequences for the sector but continued optimistically to say “Even though this crisis the products we produce can play such an important role in bringing love, joy, recovery and hope. So many people are house-bound but they can bring joy and life to their homes and gardens with flowers and plants, at least where they can actually get them.”
He went on to outline the industry support being provided by AIPH and its industry magazine, FloraCulture International. This includes the publication of factsheets highlighting the scientific evidence for the benefits to health and wellbeing that come from plants, flowers and gardening. These will provide an important resource for those reaching media and lobbying governments.
In closing, Bernard Oosterom said “I believe our industry will survive this storm and come out the other side being recognised far more than we are now. But this depends on the determination and resilience of all of us and especially those growers putting all their energies and resources into producing their wonderful crops.”
FloraCulture International editor Ron van der Ploeg adds, “The negative impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on our industry is comparable to a combination of the losses and disruption of 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis and the 2010 eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano. On all occasions, what followed after the initial wave of panic, uncertainty and sadness, was that people started using their homes and gardens as a base of comfort, safety and heightened enjoyment. As such, I applaud the UK’s Horticultural Trades Association message that gardening will play a vital role in supporting a self-isolation regime.
Meanwhile, AIPH has prepared a factsheet that details the scientifically proven benefits of fresh flowers. Both AIPH and FCI will do their utmost to support our industry, but the last thing we want is to encourage people to leave their homes when most of Europe is under lockdown. Having an online business remains an option. Also, supermarkets and corner stores continue to sell flowers and plants and people still have to visit these places. However, some have scaled back their flower offerings, and there is talk that some will close flower/plant sales altogether. We think this would be a shame when flowers arguably play an essential role in peoples wellbeing and a desire to purchase them will come.
Positive news, although difficult to verify, comes these days from China. The country is easing restrictions in its coronavirus outbreak epicentre of Hubei province. Store traffic is picking up in the rest of the country with an economic recovery fuelled by what is known as ‘revenge spending’. This outlet may help us standing stronger to fight this epidemic.”