Third of UK’s horticultural businesses fear permanent closure

Greenhouses at Farplants, West Sussex.

DIDCOT, UK: A recent survey of UK’s ornamental grower businesses suggests that a third are getting ready to close permanently. The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) is asking for a compensation scheme to be set up.

A new industry report conducted by HTA reveals that the government’s current proposed aid package does not work for the horticultural industry and that a third of UK growers claim they will be insolvent by the end of June because of the impact of coronavirus.

The report also found that unless action is taken in the next two weeks a large range of homegrown British plants may not be available for up to two years, which will increase imports and leave the UK open to the risk of infectious diseases and pests

Less than one in five growers have received help through the Government’s business support measures, while just 1% has received financial support from the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans scheme (CBILS).

Current UK Government support does not consider the total loss of annual income for growers, which is largely seasonal from March to June. Meanwhile, over three-fifths of growers (62%) said that they were not eligible for business support grants, while nearly four in five (79%) growers are not entitled to any kind of rates relief.

In the Netherlands, the Government has announced a scheme to help its industry while at the same time leaving garden centres open, meaning that Dutch growers will be perfectly positioned to supply the UK market if the British sector collapses.

In response to the findings, the nation’s favourite celebrity gardeners are calling for the Government to act now and support growers before it is too late We need to ‘Buy British to save our plant industry’ says Alan Titchmarsh as an increase of imports will have a devastating environmental impact on UK gardening.

Gardening icon, Alan Titchmarsh, has joined forces with an army of fellow TV gardeners including Adam Frost, Chris Beardshaw, James Wong, Bunny Guinness, Joe Swift, Pippa Greenwood, Jim Buttress, Matthew Biggs, Bob Flowerdew, David Domoney, Lee Connelly (The Skinny Jean Gardener) and Matthew Wilson, to help the industry by asking the millions of gardening lovers across the UK to show their support.

Alan Titchmarsh MBE comments, “The shocking findings from today’s report show that around a third of our ornamental plant growers – many of them family concerns could go out of business by the end of June unless action is taken now. Put simply, if the Government is unable to offer a compensation scheme on the lines of that already put in place by the Dutch government, and independent garden centres remain closed, then our beloved British garden industry is on the brink of destruction.”

According to Titchmarch, the longer the delay continues, the more costly the solution. “Europe has stolen a march on the UK and already prepared its horticulture industry for the future. Without a similar financial lifeline, many of our growers will go under and even more, plants will need to be imported from Europe. Aside from the catastrophic economic implications, such imports leave our nation open to the risk of all the infectious diseases and pests that for the last decade British horticulture has worked so hard to avoid. We need to buy British not only to save our plant industry but also to help deliver on our climate change and plant health ambitions in the future.”

Titchmarch is asking the public to support our campaign to #KeepBritainBlooming and to recognise the joy that plants bring to millions of gardeners across the country. He says, “Opening garden centres now, with the same safety measures employed as in supermarkets, will give people across the country access to plants, encourage them to garden, stay healthy and productive at home and help save an industry at the heart of British life.”

The scale of the challenge for UK growers is enormous. While some plants can be distributed through mail order and home deliveries, there are hundreds of millions of bedding plants in production – equal to the land area of Liverpool – and ordinarily 60% of UK plant sales go through independent garden centres at this peak trading period.

Questions have been raised as to why DIY stores have reopened with garden sections last week, while supermarkets have extended retail areas to sell more plants and gardening products. In many other countries, garden centres have been reopened.

If a decision is made to reopen garden centres, many premises are already set up to allow for social distancing as they have wide aisles and outside space. Plant areas and other essential garden supplies will be the focus for any reopening and cafes or restaurants will stay closed.

A recent YouGov poll showed that over 70% of those who attend garden centres would feel comfortable to do so once measures were eased – the highest scoring for any retail outlet.

A managed re-opening of garden centres would give people limited access and would focus on allowing the purchase of plants and other gardening supplies.

James Barnes, Chair of the HTA comments: “We’re now at the end of April and the only way of rescuing this sector is to pursue a simple compensation scheme like the system announced by the Dutch Government, which will save its horticultural industry. We should do the same. However, the cost of this scheme would be significantly reduced by allowing garden centres to sell plants and gardening equipment as soon as possible. Unless something is done in the next two weeks, we could lose between a third and a half of our seasonal growing sector, which will be a tragedy for hundreds of family businesses throughout the UK and result in a dependency on foreign imports, with all the potential biosecurity issues that brings.”

Horticulture not only provides a great deal of grow your own produce but also contributes to the positive physical and mental wellbeing of gardening. Gardening is one of the UK’s biggest hobbies with over 23 million gardeners throughout the country.

Peak season has only a matter of weeks left for the horticulture sector, which has formed an essential part of British life for over 350 years. Around 70% of plant sales are made between March and the end of May. Many of these growers are facing huge difficulties and a near-complete loss of income due to the coronavirus. Not only are they losing sales, but many are and will have to write off their stock making this a unique situation.

The UK horticultural sector is worth £24bn and supports  568,000 people and is an industry at crisis point.  Britain is a nation of gardeners, tens of millions of us get great enjoyment and relaxation, whether from our gardens, patios, balconies, allotments or the plants in our homes.

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