Buy British to save plant industry says Alan Titchmarsh

We need to ‘Buy British to save our plant industry’ says Alan Titchmarsh as an increase in imports will have a devastating environmental impact on UK gardening.

  • Around one in three businesses say that even with access to UK Government aid packages they are likely to be insolvent by the end of this year
  • More than one in ten UK growers (13%) claim that they will out of business by the end of June
  • 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
  • Alan Titchmarsh is joined by UK’s top gardeners to support industry and launches new campaign #KeepBritainBlooming

A new industry report conducted by The Horticultural Trades Association (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 the year because of the impact of coronavirus.

The HTA is asking for a compensation scheme to be set up and claims that the UK Government’s aid package simply does not work for the horticultural industry. 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 62% of growers said that they were not eligible for business support grants, while nearly 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.

Gardening icon, Alan Titchmarsh, has joined forces with an army of fellow TV gardeners, to help the industry by asking the millions of gardening lovers across the UK to show their support by

  • writing to their local MP in support of opening their local garden centres immediately in a manged and responsible way
  • sharing a message or image/video of how gardening keeps them healthy linked to #KeepBritainBlooming

Alan Titchmarsh MBE comments: “The shocking findings from today’s report show that around one in ten 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. 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.

“We are asking the public to support our campaign to #KeepBritainBlooming and to recognise the joy that plants bring to millions of gardeners across the country. 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 this year, 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.”

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.

Case study from plant wholesaler:
The Farplants Group

save plant industry
Glass house at The Farplants Group

The Farplants Group is one of the largest wholesale suppliers of outdoor plants to garden centres and garden centre chains across the UK. A co-operative of four West Sussex growers, each with their own specialisms, the group grows over 11 million plants a year and employs up to 500 staff during the peak gardening period through spring and early summer. 

Farplants is currently wasting £1 million pounds worth of product a week and without further action, estimate that this could lead to stock losses of up to £15 million. 

Brett Avery, Managing Director at Farplants says: “While we all appreciate and fully support the need for social distancing measures during this public health emergency, unfortunately, this lockdown couldn’t have happened at a worse time for the ornamental horticulture industry. 

“To put it in perspective, this spring season for growers is almost like Christmas for retailers and we usually expect to make 70% of our annual sales between March to June

Unlike other industries, we cannot bring these revenues back later in the year due to the perishable nature of our product and the length of time it takes to grow it. 

“We are, of course, doing what we can to limit wastage and continue to sell our products online. However, this only accounts for about 12% of all sales and it is impossible to squeeze the volume of product currently available into this market. We are also donating plants where we can and recently provided plants to the temporary Nightingale Hospital at ExCel.

“We welcomed the introduction of the furlough scheme which allowed us to cut the cost of permanent labour that was not needed with the reduced volume of sales. Access to other government support packages has been undermined by our sectors classification as part Agriculture; this effectively restricts the value of government guaranteed loans available (due to state aid rules) and means that we derive no benefit from business rates relief.”

“The lockdown has revived the publics appreciation of gardening and we look forward to a buoyant future market. If we are going to be able to meet the demand; we will need to be competitive against a Dutch industry that has now been offered extensive government support – including a compensation package. Without a similar level of support to UK businesses; our potential to contribute to the growth of the UK economy will be wasted”