Ash cloud sparks plant import security fear

Growers believe the security of plant imports could be an increasing problem in the future after the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud, which is halting many flights to the UK this spring, caused disruption to the plant supply chain.

UK nurseries expect future issues because they are sourcing more stock from overseas. Harrington Hall Nursery owner Andrew Shire said garden centres had missed sales because of poor availability of herb plants: "On one of the busiest weeks of the year there was no product because we missed a week of herb production.

"Nursery Fresh is one of our customers and because herbs are so volatile we pot every week. It is a very short turnaround crop at this time of year. The week in the build-up to the bank holiday we had reduced sales and the week after we had nothing at all. We're back on track now but had double stocks and with the cold weather sales dropped."

He added: "This is an issue. Over the years herbs have gone more and more to Israel. We've tried UK production but the quality is not as good and the time on the floor is a lot longer, but ultimately we will have to source more English stuff (to guarantee supply) and put up with longer growing periods."

He said sourcing Chrysanthemum cuttings from South America was also delayed because of the ash cloud.

Spalding-based Nursery Fresh director Chris Hull said being unable to air-freight herb products out of Israel left "a gap" in production.

He added that the recent cold weather meant demand had slowed in garden centres and pointed out that cut flower importers were much worse hit than ornamental and edible plant growers.

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