Freezing weather contributes to tough new year for ornamentals

Huge fuel bills, cash flow problems, staff layoffs and an inability to make deliveries and lift stock have hamstrung many in the ornamentals sector, since freezing conditions hit the UK.

Bedding growers reliant on gas and oil are facing heavy heating costs as they struggle to cope with almost a month of snow and icy conditions.

Opperman Plants owner Mike Opperman, who relies on diesel for heating, said: "It has increased our fuel bills hugely. So far I have spent £16,500 more than I was expecting to. Last week was one of the worst I have had on turnover for a very long time."

He added that the company's weekly turnover had been cut to £20,000 — down from a budgeted £60,000.

Nursery stock grower Johnsons of Whixley joint managing director Andrew Richardson said: "We have probably got 60 staff laid off until we see an improvement. The frustration is that we came back to a good order book.

"It isn't as though we are going to lose those orders but we are going to have a concertina season with a lot of work to do in short periods. Particularly with the ground stock, we are going to end up with two months to do the full season's work."

Wyevale Nurseries sales director Doug Reade added: "It is hard to say what crop damage there is at the moment because everything is under fleece, but the biggest problem is if your pots get frozen for too long then you get root deaths."

He said the company had been reliant on Calor gas heating in all its polytunnels and though the impact was not yet known, there was bound to be a significant increase in fuel costs.

James Coles & Sons Nurseries marketing manager Lynn Hunter said: "No plants are going out and we can't lift any from the fields. Some staff have been redeployed to areas such as propagation."

Meanwhile, the use of foreign cuttings created a problem for Porters Horticultural. Sales and business development manager Marie Taylor said: "Flights have been delayed because of the weather, meaning that our propagation nursery has had to work overtime and employ extra staff to deal with the influx of goods arriving at the same time. Staff have struggled to unload wagons, which have not been able to get onto our loading bays."

Consultant John Adlam predicted that the weather could lead to young plant shortages and said some growers were already reporting stock losses.

Donaldsons Flowers managing director Alan Frampton said the cold would lead to improved sales as gardeners look to replace lost plants.


See the Horticulture Week picture gallery for winter scenes from across the country.


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