Plant growers face ‘financial crisis’ as £200m of stock to be binned amid coronavirus lockdown

Up to £200 million worth of seasonal plants grown for sale in garden centres across the UK will have to be destroyed as the sector heads towards a financial crisis because of the coronavirus lockdown, a trade body has warned.

Millions of pounds worth of bulbs, bedding plants, cut flowers and pot plants like these at A&G Young nursery in Perth will have to be scrapped due to the Covid-19 shutdown.

The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) chairman James Barnes – former boss of Lasswade-based Dobbies, one of the UK’s biggest garden centre chains – has warned that the industry is facing devastating losses and potential closures as the shutdown wipes out its peak season.

Around 70 per cent of bedding plant sales are made between March and the end of May, but now hundreds of nurseries and growers, many of them family businesses, face ruin as the market for seasonal plants is shut down at the busiest time of year, said the HTA.

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As many of the plants are seasonal and perishable, they will have to be scrapped if they cannot be sold in garden centres that have closed because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Scotland’s horticultural commercial grower industry contributes up to £50m to the economy each year and supports around 700 jobs, with a large number of these in rural communities.

The HTA is calling for the UK government to support the ornamental crop sector, which grows bulbs, bedding plants, cut flowers and pot plants for garden centres, supermarkets, florists and DIY stores.

‘A perfect storm’

Sales have dwindled since the Mother’s Day weekend, when demand would normally be high but people were already beginning to self-isolate, while the government-mandated virus lockdown means there are unlikely to be any sales over Easter and through to the May bank holiday.

The value of lost plant sales across the UK will be £687m by the end of June, the HTA suggested.

Barnes warned that growers are facing stock losses on an ever-rising scale as each day passes.

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He said: “We have hit a perfect storm in the UK. Stock write offs will destroy the balance sheets of many and make it impossible for them to continue.

“We are calling for the government to work with the HTA to come up with a financial support scheme to help those businesses which have had to scrap perishable stock and are facing a huge financial crisis.

“For those that can stay in business, there are also significant longer term issues as growers may not have time to plant next year’s crop, leading to a two-year supply hit on the whole industry including retail, which will severely impact the availability of British grown seasonal plants and flowers.”

TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh has also backed the call, warning of “irreparable damage” to gardens and open spaces if the sector is not supported.

The warning comes after online garden stockists have reported high demand for their products.

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