Needlfresh supplier David Brown of Bridgend Christmas Trees said: "There are more trees in the market. The number of people here is based on how many have a lot more trees to sell. But I don't think there's a lot more premium trees - they are mostly seconds and thirds."
The strong pound makes them difficult to export, while imports are "coming from all over Europe, including Scotland, Denmark and Eastern Europe for the first time", he added. "It's good for the industry if there's more trees out there because they will be sold in more places and will be more accessible for everybody. Prices of poor-quality trees should come down. I don't know whether retailers will decide to take a bigger margin though prices have been static for as couple of years." Brown added that pot-grown is a growing market, particularly in multiples such as Morrisons and Tesco that do not like dealing with larger trees.
He said current season needle necrosis has been "quite bad this year", particularly in Scotland, though not so bad in England - the opposite to last year. "I've heard reports of 10 per cent of crop in some areas and one per cent in others." He thinks there will be two or three more years of oversupply. "Then it will come back again because when prices come down farmers don't plant trees."
British Christmas Tree Growers Association chairman Harry Brightwell said: "People are saying there should be a good supply this year. Growth has been good as well. Imports are not always premium, so that should be good for British growers."
Cadeby Tree Trust sales manager Andy Saunt said premium Nordmans were up to £2 cheaper at wholesale this year at £22 because of higher supply. Garden centres are unlikely to drop prices but more standard trees from Denmark and elsewhere in Europe, helped by favourable exchange rates, mean the industry is in a "trough" and cheap trees would "flood the market" via supermarket car park and other discount retailer sales, he added.
Apprenticeship funding model endorsed by BALI
BALI has welcomed the Government's plan to make large employers contribute to the cost of apprenticeship training as a "fair and equitable" way of incentivising employers who train their own apprentices.
The Government is consulting on how it should introduce an apprenticeship levy as part of plans to provide three million apprenticeship starts by 2020. Larger firms - thought to be more than 250 employees - will pay into an apprenticeship fund to help pay for the system.
Employers large and small will then purchase training for apprentices using digital vouchers to be spent on providers of their choice. Large employers that do not train enough apprentices will see their contribution redistributed to other employers, meaning those who do train apprentices could get more back than they put in.
For larger BALI members that already train apprentices "this could be a cost-efficient way of attracting and retaining staff and continuing (or) expanding their existing schemes", said BALI chief executive Wayne Grills.
"It is, of course, a cost burden on companies that don't want to have apprentices and only want to employ the finished article. But frankly, with the skills shortage so pronounced, there are fewer skilled operatives around to employ so larger companies particularly should surely be rethinking the way they are going to staff their companies in the future and embrace this opportunity."
Choice of trainers, one of the biggest issues, will require checks and balances to avoid poor training providers abusing the system, Grills added. He wants to see the levy combined with employer-led apprenticeships. These are currently being worked on by the horticulture and landscaping Trailblazer group, which sees representatives from across the industry working to design training that will meet the industry's specific needs.
But he said the industry will still be competing with apprenticeship schemes across other sectors. "It is crucial therefore to offer a quality scheme with real career prospects that is then promoted by Government," he said. BALI is talking with members before responding to the consultation, which runs until 2 October. Search "apprenticeships levy" at www.gov.uk to read the consultation.