Growers see exports rise 15% in two years

UK plant exports are running at their highest ever levels, with some growers reporting increases of 500% in sales to the continent.

Coprosma Pacific Sunset wins at Essen: Image John Woods Nurseries
Coprosma Pacific Sunset wins at Essen: Image John Woods Nurseries

Export sales of plants and bulbs reached £39m in 2009, up 5% from £37m in 2008 and 15% from 2007, when exports were £33m.

John Woods Nurseries sales manager Nigel Goodall said: "We are moving more stock abroad. We have contacts in France with a couple of garden centre chains and we're meeting a big chain in the next couple of weeks.

"We're selling to Holland and have made contact with a couple of chains there. We're selling differentiated product with exclusive material. It's too difficult to compete on bread-and-butter lines. We don't want to go down the prices route."

Goodall added that there was much overseas interest in John Woods after the Suffolk nursery won the best new patio plant with Coprosma 'Pacific Sunset' at Essen.

Avon Bulbs owner Chris Ireland-Jones said he exports throughout Europe, including sending unusual tulips to Amsterdam. "We do sell a little of what you would think was readily available in Holland. But we sell more of varieties such as Tulipa sprengeri, which is not widely grown there. We have seen more business in Holland in the past 12 months because of sterling's weakness."

The Dutch bulb-growing sector has shown a decline this season, with the area given over to production falling by 7% to 13,750ha. Among those in decline is the famous tulip bulb fields, which have dipped under 10,000ha in area for the first time.

Cornwall-based RA Scamp Daffodils owner Ron Scamp, who exports to many Dutch breeders, said: "My exports are up 15-20% a year and are 10% of my business now.

"But it is getting expensive to export because Defra charges £80 an hour to examine in fields and test soil and bulbs." He added that inspections were free in Wales and Northern Ireland but said exports were up because "this country is leading the way in clean stocks".

Nocton managing director Paul Clarke, who sells 5,000 tonnes of daffodil bulbs annually as well as cut flowers to UK and European supermarkets, said flower exports were rising but bulb exports were threatened by the removal of the basal rot treatment formaldehyde.

David Austin Roses marketing manager Susan Rushton said exhibiting at the increased number of 50 trade and consumer shows worldwide annually was driving exports.

Commercial Horticulture Association marketing manager Stuart Booker said: "We've seen a large influx of UK nurseries looking at European exhibitions because of the exchange rate. With difficult trading conditions here, they can offer a large discount overseas."

He added that John Woods exhibited at IPM for the first time in 2009. IPM exhibitors were up from seven in 2008 to 20 in 2010.

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