Contact conference tells nursery sector to prepare for huge change

Speakers warn of pressures from competition and government targets that will force changes to working practices

The nursery stock sector has to prepare itself for huge changes over the next five years. This was the message to delegates at last week’s fifth biennial Contact conference at Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. It was held over three days and boasted 28 speakers, five workshops and 150 delegates. Contact chairman and owner of West Sussex-based Hedgehog Plants Chris Holmes said: “The theme of ‘meeting the demands of a changing market’ was absolutely right for these times.” Delegates heard how pressures from foreign competition, stretching business objectives, and even government targets on the use of peat — set without any industry consultation — were going to force nurserymen to change their ways of working. The chairman of the Haymarket Publishing Group and proprietor of HW, Lord Heseltine, opened the event. He said: “This industry is hugely rewarding to those working within it but not always in a financial sense. The sun on one’s back on a warm March day, when buds are opening, is one of life’s most pleasurable moments, but this cannot sustain a business. One needs to first find out his or her market and then strive to be the best.” Heseltine has a world-class arboretum at his Northamptonshire home: “As a consumer, I have noticed that, increasingly, nurseries are specialising on genera. This is the way forward, particularly for the smaller grower. A focus on product ranges will give nurserymen the edge in increasingly competitive markets. Strive to be number one and to make it that your customers have no real alternative.” In memory of Pete Weston, former HW editor who was an advocate of the conferences when they started in 1997, Lord Heseltine planted a tree in the grounds. The Acer rubrum ‘October Glory’ was donated by Pulborough-based New Place Nurseries. Heseltine said: “We remember Pete’s enthusiasm for this industry with this tree, a duplicate of which will be planted in the Kent woodland to be purchased in Pete’s honour.”

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