Secretary General Tim Briercliffe celebrates his 10th anniversary at the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) this month. FCI sat down with Tim to talk about his years at AIPH and his thoughts on the future of our industry.
It’s celebrations all around AIPH this year. Tim Briercliffe marks his 10th year as the organisation’s Secretary General. At the same time, it is 75 years ago amid strained international relations, a group of well-known representatives of grower associations in Western Europe convened in Zurich and decided to recreate the Union Horticole Professionelle Internationale. This international association was formed in 1909 but dissolved in the proceeding period of war and economic crisis. The group named this new union the ‘Association Internationale des Producteurs de l’Horticulture (AIPH).
Tim Briercliffe: “For me personally, the last ten years have been an amazing experience. Ten years ago, I started this role with a good understanding of the UK horticulture industry, but now, to put this in a global context, it gives a different impression. I have learnt so much, not only about the industry but about culture, politics and how to eat anything! I have met so many wonderful people. This industry creates people with passion and ambition, and it has been a special opportunity to work with them.”
“There is no single answer to this question. In northern Europe, the sector has faced the challenges of saturation, consolidation, and the real difficulty of remaining competitive and attractive to the consumer. Whereas, in many Asian countries, with rising middle-class populations, the industry has seen tremendous growth. I am sure that the power base of our industry is moving east, where demand is rising, while at the same time, the appreciation of how plants can improve life is also there. As the world tackles climate change, there has never been a time when our industry is more important. I hope that it will develop to become recognised as a vital tool in enabling the global urban population to adapt to living healthy lives in a changed climate. But that depends on how we position ourselves as solution providers for the future.”
“Back in 2013, I started this role on my own, but you can’t do much on your own. I can look back on many proud moments in AIPH, but these are only really possible when you have built a team that can make it happen. I am proud of the AIPH and FCI teams. There have been other special moments, like being at the first AIPH World Green City Awards ceremony in front of a global audience, addressing millions on Chinese TV as we opened AIPH-approved Expos and our International Grower of the Year awards ceremonies. It’s impossible to think of just one.”
“Ornamental horticulture has been at the heart of my entire career, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The name is inadequate, of course, as plants, flowers and trees are far more than just ornamental. They perform important functions for society and the environment, and it remains my goal to make everyone believe this. That’s why I am pleased to work for ‘the world’s champion for the power of plants’.”
“As mentioned above, I believe the situation is mixed. Life for some in our industry is tough, whereas others are making their fortunes. We do need to be careful, however, as we can be fragmented and uncoordinated. It is important that we all collaborate more to ensure our industry reaches the potential it deserves.”
“China is still a rising player in my opinion as it satisfies the demands of its increasingly wealthy citizens. It is also interesting to see growth in upcoming countries, like Vietnam and Thailand that can source the growing demand from neighbouring Asian countries. Countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Colombia and Ecuador remain key suppliers, but their success remains linked to the success, or otherwise, of their traditional northern markets. Investigating new markets is no doubt a high priority for them. Southern Europe also has a lot to offer in supplying countries where energy costs are making production too difficult.”
“Horticultural production has always been about managing your environment, whatever it is, so I have no doubt producers will continue to do this. More challenging will be handling the impact on resources like water as well as coping with more catastrophic events like flooding and storms. The world needs our sector to manage living in a changing climate so there remain many opportunities for enterprising producers and breeders.”
“AIPH is focused on creating a sustainable industry that meets the challenges of the future. We have to make sure our own house is in order to do this, which is why we back schemes like the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative (FSI), have developed our own Sustainability Strategy and promotes sustainable production in FCI. But a sustainable industry must encompass People, Planet and Profit and we won’t just focus on one.”
“I believe that AIPH has already moved past that. With initiatives like Green City, we have been able to partner with much bigger global organisations to promote the need for the products of our industry at the highest level. Our members must manage the needs of their grower members, but we have the opportunity to position the sector globally too.”
“Not really. There is definitely some interest in this, but as we know, local doesn’t always mean more sustainable. In the end, I am sure that the facts will lead the way, and as tools like footprinting become more widely used, then that will count much more. Digitalisation is also changing everything in our world, and that makes global trade so much easier. The one break to this is probably plant health and the risk of the spread of pests and diseases. Some countries will promote local production for this reason but with best practice, that too can be overcome to facilitate safe international trade.”
“Yes. Our own membership might be experts in horticulture, but we are not experts at reaching the consumer and influencing national and city decision-makers. We need to partner with those that share our vision and can enable us to reach our goals. Partners like IUCN and ICLEI are good examples, but we have many more.”
“In the end, it will be a licence to trade. You may be able to make a quick buck by cutting a corner, but in the end, the businesses with integrity and an honest commitment to a sustainable future will win through.”
“It isn’t always easy. Each member has their own priorities and needs. All we can do is provide a platform for them to interact, and those that engage in this really value the benefits. You would be amazed how many growers’ organisations are looking at doing the same things at the same time. We help bring them together and achieve a better and more effective outcome in the end.”
“We only succeed if we move forwards together; that is always my view. Yes, the tone of the debate in horticulture has changed. We now depend so much more on technology and have a focus on sustainability that is now more embraced by the sector. What hasn’t changed is the vibrant entrepreneurial spirit, and that is the secret of our success as an industry.”
“Well, I am not Dutch, so maybe that helps! We ensure that our Board has a balanced global representation, and the reality is that while the Dutch sector has in the past had a strong, coordinated international voice, there are now other countries doing more on this. Global dynamics are changing, but the Netherlands will remain a powerhouse for our industry for a while yet.”
“I think understanding your audience and customer and putting them first is vital. Promoting horticulture is a worthy goal for an Expo, but in the end, you need people to come, and that must work first. Cities need to be prepared to make the significant investments required, but if they do, then I remain confident that the results will be amazing.”
“As a horticultural expo, you need to put plants first. This is different to most building developments but is key. Get the horticultural expertise involved from the start. Also, remember the visitor – their experience on the day means everything – especially in this world of social media when in hours, everyone will know how they feel.”
“No, it is a different choice. For some, when they discover the Horticultural Expo, they recognise that the kind of Expo people want and need is a Green Expo. Expos came into being to bring new developments to the world. Today what we need is new natural solutions – Horticultural Expos are the innovation hubs of today.”
“The magnificent diversity and beauty of plants in different countries are grown by people with passion and love. There is always so much to learn, everything is changing all the time, and there is no time to get bored.”
“That it gets overlooked, we are not powered by multi-national companies with huge budgets. We are made of millions of small producers. Our impact and potential are way more than we think, but we need to work together to show the world why it matters so much.”
I grew up on a pig farm but always loved the garden. I had a greenhouse for my 14th birthday and would grow and sell bedding plants to my school teachers. At 15, I did work experience for Hillier Garden Centres in Winchester and then took a Saturday job there until I left university.
I got a first-class honours degree in horticulture from Reading University and worked in plant nurseries in the UK and Canada.
I joined ADAS in 1997 as a consultant advising UK growers and carrying out our research. In particular, focusing on environmental matters, certification, quality management and market information. On leaving in 2004, I was leading the ornamental horticulture consultancy team.
At age 29, I became Director of Business Development at the UK’s Horticultural Trades Association. I worked there for eight years, developing work for growers, landscapers, retailers and manufacturers in the UK garden industry. This included launching the HTA National Plant Show, developing lobbying activity and adding a number of specialist groups.
In 2013, I joined AIPH as their first full-time Secretary General, and today, we have a team of ten across three countries and a growing global membership.
This article was first published in the September 2023 FloraCulture International.