Analysis: Ornamentals growers look to the future

From pesticide losses to greater industry co-operation, John Adlam tells Jack Sidders what to expect in 2010.

Nurseries: a tighter focus on costs this year. Image: KPP
Nurseries: a tighter focus on costs this year. Image: KPP

While amenity growers continued to struggle, those serving the retail market ended the decade on a high, with strong autumn sales bringing to a close what was widely considered a very good 2009. But with the longest cold snap in 30 years ushering in the "teenies", there is an uneasy air of anticipation about what this new era might bring.

So HW asked its resident expert John Adlam to give his some thoughts on what growers should expect this year, and what to watch out for.

"The first thing to say is that with the prolonged period of cold there's a possibility that we could end up with some young plant shortages," he says.

"I'm beginning to get some reports of plant damage — that is something to bear in mind. We need to be aware that there may not be as many plants ready for the market as early as growers thought there would, which means we may see shortages and price rises."

This year will also see the loss of numerous pesticides. "The planned and programmed loss of pesticides is fairly well defined — at this stage we know the ones we are definitely going to lose, but there will be surprises that will catch us unawares. We have some new things coming in as well, but the balance is definitely a loss."

But this, he says, will only improve the availability of biological controls, and growers should look out for new products entering the market this year.

"In addition to that, we have got the transference of the long-term arrangements to specific off-label approvals, and that will progress through the year. Though most will be fine, there will be some where the Chemical Regulation Directorate (CRD) will not allow us to use the product in the way we have become accustomed."

Because of this, the CRD consultation currently making its way to growers is vital and, according to Adlam, much future pesticide use will depend on it.

Away from pesticides, Adlam predicts an age of efficiency: "We have moved out of an expansion phase and moved into a taking stock and efficiency focused phase. In my work we are looking at lots of things within the business and how we can do things more effectively.

"Everyone is looking at reducing their inputs side. We are seeing things like smaller pathways and crops grown in pathways, where in the past they weren't. People are trying to increase their production areas without incurring extra costs."

This could also manifest itself in a boom in protected growing. With tighter schedules and erratic weather, many growers will be looking to increase their share of such areas. And this will help boost production, says Adlam, as the yields from protected crops can reach twice that of those grown outdoors.

He predicts that an ongoing trend will be the continuing changes to who grows what as companies continue to look for good niche products, regardless of their sector.

"The traditional demarcation lines are becoming blurred. In the past we have had bedding, herbaceous, cut-flower and shrub production — and they each had their traditional lines through which they travelled. But all that is becoming very blurred now.

"What was once a herbaceous perennial has become a pot plant and what was once a pot plant has become a cut flower. A lot of species are becoming dual species. What people are growing is shifting and I believe that change will become more rapid."

This development, he says, will be spurred on by the lack of R&D money for ornamentals. As crop trials become relevant to more sectors, there will be potential for alliances to form across industries, from cut flower to pot plant or from bedding to herbaceous, he suggests.

"It is an important step for our industry. We will be forced to [co-operate] as the pot of money becomes less and the facilities are cut back. As the number of sites is reduced, we will need to throw away our crop hierarchies and embrace common species where they are."

The industry must, however, abandon its reliance on lowering prices, Adlam warns. "Many of the long-running and familiar companies have disappeared because firms cut prices to the bone, which causes those businesses to run on a financial knife-edge. Growers need to think a little bit and say that perhaps cheapest isn't the best. Perhaps service is more important than price.

"I know that's a hard statement now because money is tight, but I don't think automatically buying the cheapest is sustainable for our industry. The suppliers may well win custom by going the extra mile. They shouldn't automatically try and win customers by price because we know from history that that doesn't have a sustainable future."

In terms of upcoming legislation, Adlam highlights two acts relating to water. The first is the river basin plans in the Water Framework Directive.

"This is where, over the next year, pollution levels will be assessed and a report made. Ultimately, that result will affect the cost of water that is extracted in that area. So the more polluted the river, the more expensive the water will be in that area. Some of this will begin to be mapped out in 2010, so it's in growers' interests to consider the pollution output of their operations."

The other major change is that licenses for drip or trickle irrigation will come in this year. "At present you don't have to report or pay for water used. But during 2010, growers using more than 20 cubic metres a day for drip or trickle systems will need a license. I think there is a two-year period during which they can make an application."

 

KEY PESTICIDE LOSSES OVER THE NEXT 12 MONTHS

ProductExpiry date Active ingredient
AAprotect31 January 2010Ziram
Casoron G18 March 2010Dichlobenil
Ramrod Granular 1031318 March 2010Propachlor
Applaud30 March 2010Buprofrezin
Nicotine 40% Shreds8 June 2010Nicotine
Croptex Pewter31 July 2010Chlorpropham
Gyro (1)31 July 2010Bifenthrin

This is not a comprehensive list but highlights some of the most important losses to growers in 2010. (1) Bifenthrin alternatives will continue to be available.


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