Government dialogue resulting in the Round Table for Horticulture is encouraging. Defra listens to what we say and has offered to open doors to other departments where what we need to be heard. But without market information, can we present a clear message?
The Round Table Action Plan values UK plant and flower production at £2bn, but I recently attended an international meeting of delegates at which the UK host, a senior member of Defra staff, gave a brief introduction to UK horticulture. To my horror, he announced the value of UK hardy nursery stock production as just £12m.
I confronted him after his presentation saying his figure was ridiculous. If we only produce £12m of stock then we do not have an industry worth Government concern. He said he was quoting the "official" figure.
A German colleague recently asked which of two figures for nursery production in the UK are most accurate. One was more than £1bn, the other half that. The HTA has a reasonable grasp of the retail sales value of plants through research it carries out, but there’s little to indicate how much of that is grown in the UK and how much is imported.
There is even less information on the value of amenity production. In the European Nursery Stock Association, where I represent the UK, I am expected to report on how production and sales move up or down over time. Without accurate information, I do my best with gut feel.
Other member states have found ways of estimating this information with some degree of accuracy. They recognise it as vital. We have little or nothing, so it’s difficult to make well-informed business decisions.
It’s also difficult to have a meaningful dialogue with Government because, no matter what one official might tell us, others clearly look to the "official" figures when they need information on our industry, and that does not put us in a good light.
Tim Edwards is chairman of Boningale Nurseries