NFU calls for greater support for the ornamental sector

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The NFU has written to retailers asking them to provide much-needed support for ornamental businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak by starting to rebuild their stocks of British flowers and plants in stores.

The call comes as part of a wider support plan to help the ornamentals sector which has been severely impacted by the closure of key outlets due to the coronavirus outbreak. This includes retailers, many of which reduced or stopped stocking flowers and plants amid efforts to prioritise essential food supplies, as well as garden centres, florists and the cancellation of seasonal events.

In the open letter, NFU President Minette Batters and horticulture and potatoes board chairman Ali Capper applauded supermarkets’ quick response to the change in consumer buying, but highlighted more can be done in the coming weeks to play their part in supporting the ornamentals sector. Click here to read the letter in full.

The NFU is also asking the government to support the ornamentals sector by:

  • Providing appropriate financial support for businesses which have had to dispose of stock.
  • Ensuring that current government loans are accessible at the necessary levels for growing businesses.
  • Guaranteeing that garden centres will be among the first businesses allowed to re-open under a phased exit of the lockdown.

An online tool is now available for members to email their local MP to make the case to government to take urgent action to support the ornamentals sector. The letter template is editable so do add personal comments or experiences into the communication.

Click here to email your MP.

NFU key asks and related action

  1. The government should provide appropriate financial support to businesses which have had to dispose of stock. The NFU has worked very closely with the HTA in producing a proposed stock compensation scheme, and continues to collaborate to gather the necessary information to support this.
  2. The government should support growers in accessing existing government support, including the CBILS scheme, and extending the repayment period. The NFU has engaged extensively with government, including the Treasury, on the issues ornamental producers are facing in accessing the existing support package and the need for a more suitable support mechanism.
  3. The government should ensure that garden centres are among the first businesses allowed to reopen under a phased exit of the lockdown.
  4. Retailers to begin restocking of ornamentals now that the immediate issues with stocking levels have largely recovered.
  5. Confirmation that in the event of further restrictions that ornamental workers will be considered essential and therefore be able to continue to work. The NFU has raised this within Defra to ensure that the needs of ornamental workers are considered, as well as including ornamentals in wider work around furloughing and the need for flexibility and other access to labour issues.

Click here to take part in the COVID-19 UK ornamentals grower survey survey.

The NFU has been working closely with the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) in calling for financial support for the ornamentals sector and needs evidence from members. Find out how to take part in this survey.

Minette Batters pictured at home

Upon publication of the letter, Mrs Batters said:

“Since the start of lockdown our supermarkets have been rightly focused on ensuring the public has access to essential foods and products during the coronavirus outbreak.
“We are now in a period where food sales have stabilised, and we ask that retailers restock British flowers and plants and do all they can to support businesses which have been suddenly left without any of their key outlets.
“The ornamentals sector is a truly vibrant part of British production and delivers huge benefits for society – from the bright colours we see in public parks to our very own gardens and kitchen tables – and we need to do all we can during this crisis to protect its future.”

NFU horticulture and potatoes board chairman Ali Capper said:

“Like fresh food, flowers and plants are perishable. Growers are looking for new ways to get their products to the public, but if retail stock remains as low as it is then many of these plants will simply go to waste. At a time when ornamental businesses would be making the majority of their yearly income, this loss could have significant financial impacts.
“At a time when ornamental businesses would be making the majority of their yearly income, this loss could have significant implications both financially and on farmers’ mental wellbeing.

“Re-opening stocks of British flowers and plants will not only be a huge help to our growers, but will help brighten our days during this difficult time.”

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Read the letter sent by the NFU to retailers:

Restocking of ornamental goods

Retail businesses and their supply chains deserve credit for responding quickly to close down non-essential retail as the nation adapts to a new normal under Covid-19 measures. The consumer response in your stores has been unprecedented and the rapid recovery of essential stock in stores is to be applauded.

You may be aware of the significant and immediate impact on the ornamental sector, which is as a result of a combination of freeing up food retail capacity, and the closure of garden centres and florists. These measures were of course essential measures by industry and Government in feeding the nation and protecting the public.

As we enter a new phase of lockdown and a new period of more stable retail food sales, we urge attention on ornamental supply chain that normally features in your stores. Plants, like fresh food are perishable products but have limited options to get to customers but their contribution to the economy; jobs and social wellbeing are significant.

The total value of the 2020 ornamental crop (flowers and bulbs, pot plants and hardy nursery stock) is estimated by the Horticultural Trades Association to be £1,405m. The Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Group estimate that the ornamental horticulture and landscaping sector in the UK contributed £24.2 billion to national GDP in 2017, supporting 568,700 jobs and contributing £5.4 billion in tax revenues.1 This is in addition to the contributions the sector makes in terms natural capital, social, mental and physical wellbeing.

As garden centres close and retail orders cancelled, nurseries, and in turn their suppliers, will see a major loss of income, as plants perish and need to be scrapped. Plant stocks also represent a significant financial investment for these businesses (c. 50% of turnover), so if they need to be disposed of then this investment is also lost. Furthermore there is uncertainty around whether they will be paid for stock delivered earlier in the season. This all comes at a time when finances and overdrafts are already stretched due to the seasonal nature of the ornamental supply chain, with the majority of the income (80% of turnover) being made between March and May.

It is therefore clear that the financial impacts of the crisis on this sector will likely decimate the majority of growing businesses, from cut flowers to bulbs to bedding plants to hardy nursery stock, many of which are long standing family businesses which has existed for several generations. The HTA estimate that a third of ornamental businesses could fail, which will not only have serious impacts on the sector, but on the wider UK economy and society.

Growers are keen to find ways that they can mitigate the impacts themselves, such as exploring the option of online sales, taking steps to maintain long term existing stock and propagation operations. However without key retail outlets for live plants, cut flowers and seed, the majority of stock will perish and need to be scrapped, resulting in irrevocable damage to many of our growers.

Retailers have stepped up to the plate when the nation has asked them to for their food and we, as unsubsidised but long term partners in your supply chain, are asking for your help by reopening the usual stocking opportunities in your stores as soon as possible.

1. Oxford Economics “The Economic Impact of Ornamental Horticulture and Landscaping In The UK” October 2018

Background information

The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) estimates the total value of the 2020 ornamental crop (flowers and bulbs, pot plants and hardy nursery stock) to be £1,405m. It also estimates that a third of ornamental businesses could fail due to COVID-19 impacts.

The Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Group estimates that the UK ornamental horticulture and landscaping sector contributed £24.2 billion to the national GDP in 2017 and supported 568,700 jobs.

More from NFUonline:

Coronavirus: Updates and advice

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