Belgium has gone into full lockdown, following the example of several other European countries. With the outer borders of the Schengen area closed, the free flow of goods and people is further limited. For instance, Rungis, the wholesale market in Paris, has been closed to flowers and plants since yesterday evening. "When earlier this week I was able to still sell a bit, now, there's practically no trade at all. Zero", one plant grower says.
Pictured: the Van der Ende flower challenge is going viral, with companies buying loads of flowers for their colleagues in order to help out the growers (Photo courtesy of Floral Daily)
Floral Daily talked to growers and traders in the Benelux to see how they're doing.
Smaller 'supermarket plants' are still being sold. "It's at a bare minimum, 30% of what we would normally do", says Anita Kap of Kwekerij Freek v.d. Veldern, "and unfortunately the garbage collector is our biggest customer right now, but there are at least some orders. Most of them smaller, a number of cancellations also, but one client actually wanted something extra. For now, the Dutch garden centres are also still open and, especially now, the gerbera is bringing some extra colour to the garden."
Tropical plants aren't faring as well though, and that's not just due to the sunny weather. Ron van den Bosch from Berkel en Rodenrijs is reminded of the previous crisis in 2008. "That was something totally different of course, but entrepreneurs can still learn something from that time. For instance, you check all procedures, put things on hold that don't have high priority, and you look at what you still have room for and what should perhaps be thrown out at one point."
In orchids, prices are abysmal. "There's a small amount still going to England, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia (except for Denmark), other countries are completely closed", according to Micha Groothuizen of Levoplant. "As of today, we've been destroying plants, because we need to continue in the production. We can only hope that the society and economy will get back up and running again ASAP."
Trading companies: to close or not to close?
The market is in the doldrums, and various companies react in different ways. "We're forced to do massive write-offs, and a lot of our inventory is going into the bin. But as long as the auction remains open, we'll stay open as well", says Theo de Mooij of Hoven & De Mooij. "We're seeing a responsibility for ourselves towards clients, shopkeepers and florists, in order to support them as much as possible. Then some markets are still open as well; the Netherlands, part of Germany (although the situation changes constantly there, one client told us that he had to close his shop but now he's doing deliveries, which is still allowed); and we're also still sending flowers to Russia and Eastern Europe. We're also helping fellow traders who can't physically be here by inspecting and trading for them."
Royal FloraHolland is in talks with the Dutch ministry of agriculture, and regularly provides updates per export country. The latest overview can be found here.
Belgium has gone into lockdown as of today. The most urgent problem is with growers, followed by suppliers, of course. Ellen Pieters, Managing Director with Gediflora, is keeping a level head. "Our starting materials are still being supplied, and in that sense our production is more or less continuing as normal. What's more, the ball-shaped chrysanthemum is more of a late summer product, and the current situation is bound to return to normal at some point. But for now, things can change by the day, of course. We ourselves are trying to stay calm, and to show that to our employees as well."
Flemish industry association AVBS just released an update for the ornamental industry in Flanders. In a preliminary estimate, they assess the damages will amount to 134.58 million euros.
Marco van Zijverden and Steven van Schilfgaarde already told Dutch media of the drama taking place in the Dutch industry. Dutch rose grower Arie van den Berg also echoed the sentiments among flower growers in the country (link). This image is confirmed from all sides. "I was only able to sell a few of the best stems", says one chrysanthemum grower who asked to remain anonymous. "But we have to throw away a lot. And 30% of very little, that's really very little."
The Dutch government is taking emergency measures. These aren't just very welcome, they're absolutely necessary. Among these measures are labor tax credit, a reimbursement of part of the wages, security deposits and interest rebates, deferment of payments and lowering of fines, and industry-specific compensation measures.