Brexit effect dominates debates at ornamentals trade events

Importers bullish despite supermarkets scoping market for British cut flowers.

While figures from Holland suggest an 11%-plus slowdown in nursery imports, and with supermarkets scoping the market for British-grown cut flowers, importers are saying sales remain strong and 2017 still looks to be a promising season.

The effect of Brexit has been at the forefront of conversations at the January round of trade events held by the HTA, British Protected Ornamentals Association and Garden Centre Association as well as at IPM Essen.

Taylor's Bulbs director and incoming HTA president (from September 2017) Adam Taylor says the political effect of Brexit will be much more long-term than just what happens this year. "All you can do is try and work in the environment you've got now. It's an unknown scenario in two-and-a-half or three years' time. Changes in regulations are going to be the big difference." The euro is now worth around £1.16 compared with £1.40 before the Brexit vote on 23 June 2016.

Last month prime minister Theresa May said the UK will leave the EU single market, which allows free movement of goods, services and workers between its members and makes trade agreements with individual countries. Taylor adds: "Exchange rates have an impact, of course, but we're low cost base product and grow in the UK as well as importing from Europe."

Growing model

Taylor's Bulbs grows daffodils in the Holbeach area of Lincolnshire and used to grow tulips many years ago, but Taylor says: "There's no way we're changing our growing model based on one year." Tulip and crocus costs will be up this year but overseas competition is going to see a greater impact because all their costs are in euros, he explains.

One supermarket is known to have approached a large fruit and vegetable grower to see whether it can expand into competitively priced commercial UK gladioli growing, so the supermarket can beat Brexit price rises from the continent.

Royal FloraHolland has said plant imports to the UK are down 11% since the vote, while at the recent HTA Contact conference Dutch grower and Anthos board member Jan De Vries said the UK "can't do without Europe" regarding plant imports, adding that a "new form of free trade (agreement) will certainly come about", not least because 25% of Dutch production is going to the UK. But he said trade agreements "will be focused on plant health", which he suggested could be protectionist.

Dutch publication Financieele Dagblad says cut flower sales to the UK declined by 14% in December. One-third of chrysanthemums exports head to Britain.

From the biggest European nursery show, IPM Essen, Plants for Europe's Graham Spencer reports that the "main topic is impact of Brexit, particularly ongoing uncertainty about impact on PVR and plant health, and also labour. Essen was generally optimistic in spite of wider uncertainty in the world. Uncertainty with Brexit is the bigger issue than what's actually going to happen. People can plan for something if they see what's coming in."

At nursery open days for garden centre customers this month, such as at Hillier and Burston, retailers were out in force looking for British-grown product. Fosseway Garden Centre owner Tim Godwin, speaking at Hillier's open day, said: "We have always bought British but when the Italian thing came about we were all traipsing to Italy and buying plants from 2007-09. But that fell away and we've not really been back. We just saw an opportunity in Italy with the euro against the pound and that's where things have changed." He adds that plant health issues such as Xylella also now cause him concern with importing.

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