Confidence boosted as exchange rate settles

UK growers were upbeat at the Four Oaks Trade Show with the possibility of growth as favourable exchange rates settled down post-Brexit. Sterling was around £1.20 to the euro, down from £1.40 earlier this year, meaning more expensive imports.

UK growers were upbeat on exchange rates at Four Oaks
UK growers were upbeat on exchange rates at Four Oaks

UK Christmas tree growers suggested they would do better this year (see p7), while importers at the annual Cheshire trade show, which is made up of 40 per cent overseas exhibitors, expressed some concern about currency, employment and the potential red tape that the 23 June UK vote to leave the EU might bring them.

Lincolnshire grower Neame Lea and trader Zyon UK last month become the second biggest UK growing group at £35m turnover, relaunched with partner Zyon under the "Enjoy! Gardening" tag at Four Oaks. Neame Lea managing director David Ball said: "The enjoy gardening theme aims to get younger people who don't know about plants into gardening," adding: "The exchange rate is favourable for British growers."

Zyon UK managing director Justin Solly said: "UK growers have an opportunity because exchange rates are weak. In 2008, when the pound crashed, the UK grower market came back into a bit of strength after a lot of UK growers had gone before that. We will see that strength again now." He added that his business as a trader makes it even more important for Zyon to get involved with Neame Lea.

Earley Ornamentals owner Simon Earley said: "All our customers say they are going to place more orders in the UK and I think that will happen, especially with exchange rates. There are people dealing with us 100 per cent now because they are not dealing with the Dutch anymore. The downside is we buy seeds in euros and that will have a cost implication. But the situation is the situation and we have to crash on and up our game."

KG Greenhouses' Andrew Hinchcliffe said new glass, benching, heating and mechanisation at nurseries such as Neame Lea, Lovania, Pinetops, VHB (Vitacress) and O'Hanlon Herbs are driving the market forward as the higher National Living Wage kicks in. "A lot of growers are looking to embrace the idea of robotics to minimise wages."

He said robotics "show a level of investment and expertise that give supermarket customers confidence". Older glasshouses, such as Four Oaks, are up for sale, with a shortage of modern glass available (see p9).

At Glee, growers reacted to Government suggestions requiring EU migrants to have work permits. Darby Nursery Stock sales manager Hannah Darby said: "It's a big concern because we're in rural East Anglia and that is the workforce that wants to work. A few who work for us are settled and have bought houses but there is uncertainty not knowing what is going to happen."

Wyevale Nurseries sales director Adam Dunnett said the UK horticulture industry needs labour from Europe and will "struggle" without, especially at peak times such as transplant season. The grower is running more in-house training for apprentices and management as well as visiting schools and careers fairs, he added.

Dunnett said the nursery is up on last year in retail and amenity sales, and has seen 40 per cent growth in supply to garden designers. Retail supply has been a "roller coaster" but Brexit has made no impact while on the amenity side housebuilding and infrastructure projects are going ahead.

Quality Ornamentals general manager Paul Brooking said: "If the outcome of Brexit is we no longer have free movement of labour, agriculture and horticulture will look to the Government to restore a seasonal labour scheme."

Hawkesmill sales director Richard Evans said since Brexit garden centres have suggested they might want to buy more British plants such as herbs. "If the exchange rate worsens it's got to help us and make us more competitive," he added. Javado's Michel Heemskerk said prices rose straight after Brexit but have now stabilised. Prices change weekly but can be fixed for promotions, he added.

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