May 1st 2020

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic the UK horticulture industry is in danger of collapse. Please write to your MP to demand immediate Government action.

The Worshipful Company of Gardeners, together with the National Farmers’ Union, calls on the government to support the ornamental horticulture industry with urgent intervention in these areas:

1. The Government should provide financial support to businesses which have had to dispose of plant stock.

2. The Government should enable growers to access existing government support, including the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and extending the repayment period.

3. The Government should ensure that garden centres are among the first businesses allowed to reopen under a phased exit of the lockdown.

Owing to the closure of ‘non-essential’ retail which included garden centres and florists, the ornamental supply chain has been significantly and immediately impacted, as plants and flowers, which are a perishable product, are no longer able to move through the chain.

As garden centres and florists have closed, horticultural nurseries and their suppliers are already seeing a major loss of income as unsold plants perish.

Plant stocks represent a significant financial investment, and a large proportion of annual turnover. This comes at a time when finances and overdrafts are already stretched due to the seasonal nature of the industry with the overwhelming majority of the income (up to 70% of turnover across the industry) being made between February and June.

It is estimated that the 2020 ornamental crop would be valued at nearly £1.5 billion, while the whole sector contributes around £24.2 billion to national GDP and £5.4 billion in tax revenue, supporting nearly 600,000 jobs.

This is in addition to the contributions the sector makes in terms natural capital, social, mental and physical wellbeing.

Without any action from the government, the financial impacts of the crisis on this sector has the potential to decimate the whole sector.

While the current suite of financial measures announced by government is welcome, in many cases they are not suitable for ornamental businesses, particularly when one considers the state aid restrictions and payment periods associated with CBILS.

Producers cannot furlough all staff and switch off production, and the business rates holidays are not relevant in this sector. It is also important to note that the ornamental horticulture sector is unsubsidised and does not draw on existing state aid support.

Of course, the ornamental sector is just one of the many industries sadly affected by coronavirus impacts, on top of the awful human cost.

The sector has been looking to find ways to mitigate the negative impacts, such as through online sales. However, these measures will only go so far when the key retail end of the supply chain for live plants and cut flowers has been cut off.

The majority of stock will perish and need to be scrapped, resulting in the loss of both profit and the financial investment in those plants which has already been made.

It is only a matter of weeks ago that all UK-produced plants and flowers had strong routes to market and lots of opportunities to grow, supporting environmental ambitions, particularly in relation to tree planting.

I am sure you will share our hope that in the future those markets will return and make the sector’s ambition to grow viable. Without a strong ornamental sector the UK will become increasingly reliant on imports, which will have both economic and biosecurity impacts.

It is therefore crucial that the British ornamental horticulture industry is not irreversibly damaged by this crisis and can meet that demand in the future.

After reading this we urge you to write to your MP to make these demands to save the horticultural industry in this country. Thank you for your time and support.