British Plant Fair exhibitors mostly positive so far on Brexit impact

Most UK growers exhibiting at the British Plant Fair at Stoneleigh said Brexit had had a positive, or no effect on their businesses so far.

In a straw poll of exhibitors, only two saw downsides: one had exchanged imported stock for homegrown to keep prices down after an exchange rate hit last June; another was struggling to bring in enough overseas workers for the forthcoming season.

In 2016, 80% of British Plant Fair exhibitors said they were against leaving the EU, but a year on, most said there had been little change in their businesses.

A few 2017 exhibitors said they had seen greater interest in British-grown stock, which is now on a more even playing field price-wise with continental stock.

Speaking to more than 20 growers, nurseries including New Leaf Plants, Wyevale Nurseries and Hillier said there was more interest in homegrown stock this year.

Hillier said the weather last week had dampened sales. But managing director Chris Francis said exchange rates "have given us a little bit of difference". Hillier nursery sales have seen 15% growth this year, which Francis said was "a lot to do with changes in the team, product and how we're presenting ourselves, but I'm sure in that growth exchange rates have helped to some degree."

Wyevale Nurseries' Adam Dunnett said: "Overall Brexit has had a positive effect. We're starting to see a little bit of 'Britpot' customers coming through. But loyalty only goes as far as being able to offer the right product at the right price."

New Leaf Plants' Andy Jeanes said: "People are buying less European stuff. We've had more customers coming to us because they can't get it as cheap from Europe."

Chapel Cottage Plants David Green said: "A bit of business has come our way, but that's only with the floating customer." However he said he had employed three recruiters to get enough imported seasonal staff because of "fears" about Brexit's outcome.

Kilworth Conifers' Derek Spicer said Brexit had "made no difference so far but I believe that's going to change rapidly bdcause of the Euro going down the tubes".

David Austin Roses said there had been little change in its exports, which have actually risen among the 45 countries the grower sells to.

Golden Grove's Roger Ward said exchange rate changes after the Brexit vote meant Dutch imports were 20% more expensive leading to "quite a lot of interest in early spring, and we had a good autumn. People are going to think twice and buy British as a result."

He said the credit crunch in 2008 helped exchange rates in the UK's favour "and sales were good" but the "worst year was when the euro was £1.40 and there was an "awful lot of Dutch plants coming in".

"Labour could be the only downside," Ward added.

Matt Graham of The Plantyard said Brexit "came at the worst time in June" and the company "caught a cold" and lost 15% margin on exchange rates. Hedging currency is a way forward, as is buying more British stock, such as local Hampshire pot grown hedging in 12/25 litre, previously sourced from Belgium. He said he had made a 30% change on not buying from the Eurozone since June, including a range of UK 9cm herbs.

Bransford Plant Company's Adrian Marskell said the Dutch may be "buying business" with crops on the ground to sell and "hoping exchange rates will rectify itself next year". But he said changing business strategy to supply more was a way off.

Bransford launched a new garden orchid range hardy to -20C from Anthura.

Hawkesmill launched Salvia Pink Lips as an exclusive and a range from Victorian Violas

New Leaf Plants launched new point of sale

Quality Ornamentals' Paul Brooking announced his retirement after 44 years in the industry, to be replaced by former Vitax and ICL representative Wendy Robinson.

Storm Doris has delayed the season but growers and retailers expect a better match and April than 2016 when poor weather suppressed plant sales.

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