In early April I wrote to the Secretary of State for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs to express members concerns at the level of plant wastage up and down the country at young plant nurseries. I also wrote to the Lord President of The Privy Council; Jacob Rees-Mogg on the same subject to register this Chartered Institutes concern at the inaction of Government for nursery growers. This was just at the point of the Prime Ministers hospitalisation and of course events took a different turn at that point. I received polite notices from both offices to tell me that they had received my correspondence and the contents were noted. I note that the trade associations of NFU Hort and HTA are doing a fine job in political circles making representations for their grower members. We support all their endeavours and actions to get a fair deal for growers. Jack Ward the CEO of British Growers has also been keeping me up to date with the labour shortage issues in fresh produce as Covid-19 has also been severely impacting the migration of overseas workers to field crops, fruit and edibles. The Land Army and Pick for Britain is current initiatives to address these labour shortages.
These last four weeks has certainly provided a veritable storm in terms of young plants getting to market, whether these plants were annuals, cut flowers, protected ornamentals, herbaceous or woody material, they have all been subject to major decisions that the grower never envisaged.
New mail order facilities have sprung up, click and collect has been created at nurseries, plants have been routed to established online sales outlets, lots of plants have been donated, some potted on and some have found the skip – a sad tale of the perishable end of ornamentals. I truly hope that those great seasonal bedding growers find some government funding and loans to survive long term. We will all be watching the progress and supporting all the way. Please do contact your MP as highlighted below in the news column and support our ornamental growers!
The viability of retaining staff has also been a factor in all of this pandemic, as has the vast support structure that underpins ornamental horticulture but that has largely been forgotten. Machinery, Compost, Labels, Pots, Chemicals, Fertiliser, Irrigation and many other small companies. The huge array of sundries that is stocked at a distributor at the moment is quite staggering and a great concern. Some may experience the same cash flow issues as growers. Certainly, supermarkets reducing plant/flower floor space when the pandemic broke, was not helpful
Growers have been at the very sharp end of this public health issue and some have had to embark on the e-commerce route to market, raising a multitude of questions; can I create a new mail order facility in short time? justify the retained cost of wages? can I ship enough to existing mail order outlets to keep stock moving? where do I get the packaging from? who will be my courier? will my courier have enough drivers? will the compost, pots, chemicals, fertiliser and labels arrive to support my crop sales? can I keep my staff healthy for the duration? can we keep up with orders? Is social distancing workable in the workplace? will the supermarket re-allocate floor space to plants? These are just some of my discussions over the last 4 weeks with growers, suppliers, retailers and home gardeners
I sincerely hope that the government can find a way to opening the plant sections of garden centres in the next two weeks, similar to Supermarkets and DIY stores. We have missed this vital four weeks of the year but with two key public holidays to come in the month of May we may get some plant sale activity. I hope you will all support your local Nursery and Garden Centre when the draw bridge is finally lowered.
Do keep checking on the web site for all the Covid-19 news articles and industry updates and keep safe – we are entering the home straight!
Gerald Bonner CHort, FCIHort