Forum hears call for growers to unite

Growers need to work together to secure their market position

UK growers must co-operate by pooling resources such as transport and purchasing if they are to secure their position in the market, a leading grower told the HTA annual conference in York on Monday. Speaking in a session examining current challenges for growers, Bransford Webbs Plant Company managing director Geoff Caesar said Dutch growers co-operated as a matter of course, leading to a high degree of specialisation and automation. He said: “In my experience they do not choose to all use a transport company, grow different products from each other or use a sales agent because they like working together — they do it because it makes good business sense.” Caesar is a member of the Midland Regional Growers group, which is to appoint a third-party transport company to handle transport for eight of its members, using grant aid from the HTA. Other sessions at the event included a focus on the economic outlook, during which delegates were told not to take too much notice of the gloom and doom coming from the Confederation of British Industry and the British Retail Consortium on retail sales. HSBC economist Mark Berrisford-Smith said such groups have an axe to grind because they want interest rate cuts. He said the recent slow down in sales had been caused by consumers finally responding to high levels of debt: “There was a dawning realisation among consumers that they couldn’t expect [house] prices to continue to go up 20 per cent each year.” Commentating on the impact of the downturn in a panel debate, Garden & Leisure Group operations director Carol Paris said: “A year ago most of us were playing to the time poor, cash rich — now it’s more a case of time poor, cash poor.” But she was adamant that the slow down would not translate into price sensitivity at garden retail level: “As long as we can promote quality of plants, perceived value for money and offer a good shopping experience to our customers we can still charge premium rates for premium products.”

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