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UK Garden Centres Stockpile Plants as Brexit Checks Loom: Industry Braces for Delays and Damage

As Brexit checks on plant and animal products from the EU are due to start later this month, garden centres and nurseries are rushing to bolster their inventories. This proactive measure arises from concerns about the readiness of new border posts to manage the expected surge in deliveries.

The Horticultural Trade Association (HTA), representing garden retailers and growers alike, has noted a significant uptick in plant orders by its members in the recent weeks to augment their stocks before the enforcement date.

Continental suppliers have indicated their intentions to defer certain orders for up to three weeks post-implementation due to apprehensions that some Border Control Posts (BCPs) might be inundated.

The government aims to introduce physical inspections as part of its revised border operational model, with checks to be conducted at facilities located in Killingholme, Harwich, and Sevington, Ashford. BCP operators will be tasked with the unloading and reloading of goods, subsequently presenting them to government inspectors for examination.

However, concerns linger among plant sellers and growers about potential delays and the risk of plant damage due to the new checks. A survey of 50 HTA members revealed that 41% are planning to advance their deliveries in anticipation of the checks.

Sally Cullimore, HTA’s technical policy manager, remarked, “Currently, there’s a significant surge in activity as everyone strives to secure their supplies before the 30th of April deadline.” She added, “There's widespread concern about the capability of the border control posts, particularly regarding the handling of goods, at a time which is crucial for garden retail sales.”

Government officials maintain that the BCPs will be operational in time and emphasise the necessity of these checks for safeguarding Britain’s biosecurity and preventing the introduction of harmful plant diseases.

The strategy of stockpiling is predominantly focused on woodier plants, shrubs, and perennials, which are less perishable, unlike other more delicate species.

Martin Emmett, from Farplants, who imports a significant portion of his stock from the EU, noted that his company had advanced its end-of-month deliveries by three weeks to mitigate potential disruptions. “We are prioritising products like shrubs and garden flowers, such as geraniums and echinaceas, that have more flexible production timelines,” Emmett explained.

Andy Moreham, sales manager at Joseph Rochford Gardens, shared that his Hertfordshire-based company had opted to import its plants from Italy two weeks ahead of schedule due to logistical concerns at border points.

Conversely, Richard McKenna, managing director at Provender Nurseries in Swanley, Kent, reported that while his company continues to order as usual, some suppliers in Ireland, the Netherlands, and France will not dispatch goods for up to three weeks following the initiation of the checks, complicating procurement efforts.

Tim Rozendaal, a strategic adviser at VGB, the Dutch association of wholesalers in floricultural products, highlighted that the apprehension of BCPs being overwhelmed during peak import periods is prompting some members to delay deliveries by up to a week. He emphasised, “This hesitancy presents a challenge for the industry, as the peak season is brief and any lost sales during this crucial period can severely affect business outcomes.”

A government spokesperson assured, “We are dedicated to assisting businesses as they adapt to the new border checks and to ensuring the smooth transit of imported goods. We are actively collaborating with the horticultural sector to trial the infrastructure and systems ahead of their implementation.

"We are confident in our capacity and capabilities across all points of entry to handle the expected volume and types of checks, while our inspectors have undergone comprehensive training to manage goods with the utmost care and safety.”


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