'We need support': UK growers face potential ruin if stiff competition with Dutch imports continues

July 8, 2020

In mid-April, Dutch growers received a one-off grant of €600 million (£540  million) from their government to bail them out of the Covid crisis.

And UK growers? Not a bean! They say they need support because of losses caused by the amount of perishable plants they had to throw away when garden centres were forced to close on March 23, just ahead of peak gardening season.

 

Many growers also stopped planting – so when garden centres reopened on May 13, they had nothing to supply them with. UK nurseries asked the Government for £250 million to fill the hole, but three months on they will settle for £50 million – or indeed anything at all.

 

In comparison, UK charities have received £750 million, zoos £100 million, the fishing industry £10 million, and even Northern Ireland’s government has given growers £1.5 million.

 

The Horticultural Trades Association says: “A weakened horticultural industry will result in Britain becoming more reliant on imports, with risks of devastating pests and diseases such as Xylella fastidiosa.”

 

Xylella is a disease that has killed millions of olives and other plants on the Continent, but is yet to hit Britain. An HTA survey last week found that already, 65 per cent of larger retailers were importing more bedding plants than last year, almost half were importing more hardy nursery stock and four in 10 more herbaceous perennials.

 

To rub it in, Dutch growers are getting up to 40 per cent more for their plants via their auction system as British garden centres scramble for plants to meet pent-up demand during a record June.

 

Without those imports, there would have been an awful lot of empty shelves and disappointed gardeners. April saw double the number of searches around “gardening” compared with any month in the past five years, according to Google Analytics.

 

HTA ornamentals committee chairman Martin Emmett, who is a director at Farplants, one of Britain’s biggest growers of plants for the trade, says: “It would appear many Dutch counterparts have been better served than we are, not least by their compensation scheme but also because their garden centres stayed open and their auction system offered good returns during May and June. So, coming up we’re facing stiff competition from Dutch imports.”

 

Emmett says there is “no news” on the UK claim for compensation from the Government – not for lack of effort by trade bodies. He hopes for a decision soon “because we’re running out of time”.

 

Tim Briercliffe, secretary general of the International Association of Horticultural Producers, says many countries have had a better lockdown than the UK. One German grower told him they had had their best year for 15 years; US growers have had an “amazing year”; Australian nurseries “a really good year”; while Dutch garden centres are 10 per cent up after staying open through the crisis.

 

He says the Dutch government values its growers because horticulture is such an important industry for Holland – flower and plant exports alone are worth €6 billion annually, including €855 million to the UK.

 

The UK Government is doing its best to restrict imports ahead of Brexit, defying EU orders to allow free trade of Xylella-risk plants such as olives, lavender and rosemary. Those canny Dutch are getting around this by setting up UK sites to hold plants in quarantine.

 

There will be stricter border controls from Jan 1, when the Brexit transition period ends, requiring full phytosanitary certification for goods from Europe. Importers fear the UK Government could well crack down on imports of plants such as prunus and taxus, citing biosecurity risks.

 

UK growers are planning for a normal 2021, albeit with the caveat that there is no second spike. They hope, like the rest of the world, that 2020 has been a uniquely difficult year.


 

Matthew Appleby is the editor of Horticulture Week

 

Source: The Telegraph

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