The Kildare Growers Trade Show is adapting to the recession in the Irish economy by introducing a trolley fair and rallying exhibitors to cope with the end of the housing boom in Ireland.
The 23rd annual trade event, to be held in Punchestown Event Centre, Naas, County Kildare, on 24-25 July, will be visited by minister of state for food and horticulture Trevor Sargent. Bord na Mona and Horticulture Ireland/Bord Bia will again sponsor the running of the 5,000-visitor show.
Sargent will present the show awards on 24 July. That evening there will be a new event - a barbecue and entertainment for all exhibitors. Also new this year is a chance to win a pre-registration prize of a new Ariens Zoom 1842 mower - one for each day of the show.
The trolley fair, comprising plants from all Irish nurseries exhibiting at the show, will offer an opportunity for buyers to update and replenish stocks.
There are almost 20 first-time exhibitors including suppliers of software, aquatics, kerbing, machinery, plants and furniture, says show organiser Karen Guilfoyle.
She admits that exhibitors have been slow to book this year but says new events mean the show is still well worth the trip. Guilfoyle explains: "Kildare is the only show of its kind in Ireland and is recognised internationally as the flagship of the Irish ornamental and amenity nursery-stock industry.
"We have three new features to highlight - the trolley fair, the barbecue and a nursery-skills competition. We also have lots of new exhibitors."
These include Beechill Bulbs from County Offaly. Representative Alan Wallace says Beechill Bulbs is a new business created from Beechill Growers, which was formerly part of Lingarden. Former Lingarden board member Wallace owns 58ha and supplies landscapers, garden centres and councils with Irish-grown daffodil bulbs.
He says: "We're now targeting garden centres because that's where the growth is." He claims that there has been 280 per cent growth in sales to garden centres in recent years.
Wallace explains: "If someone gets our brochure we can supply whatever they want. They don't have to pick collection A, B or C and get some bulbs they don't want. With us you can pick one or 500 of what you want, and you don't have to get anything you don't want.
"Delivery is within a week, in season. People are used to waiting three or four weeks and are used to getting the wrong types or colours. Attention to detail and sorting out problems as they arise is key. And Irish bulbs are free from eelworm - we have the strictest controls in the world."
He adds: "Beechill has been exporting daffodils to the US since 1992 via our agent, Wespak Distributors."
Another new exhibitor is Eden Garden Centres, a buying group for Irish garden centres. Managing director Mark Foley says: "We're a new company that wants to get our name and brand out there and as well-known as possible.
"We only set up in the past eight months. I've been to Kildare before as a customer and feel that Kildare is the best place to exhibit to get our brand out there.
"We will be meeting garden centre owners and offering them a service as a buying group. We want to get the small and medium-sized garden centres on board to help them to make a better living because they are struggling against the multiples and Tesco."
Foley is hoping to have between 150 and 200 members within three years and has commitments from 30 companies to launch properly in January 2009. He has set up 150 meetings nationwide and hopes to sign up 50 members in year one. See www.edengardencentres.ie.
Getting an Irish presence
UK exhibitors find Kildare a useful entrance point to the Irish market. Lancashire-based Northern Polytunnels representative Matthew Harrison will be exhibiting indoors at this year's show. He says: "Kildare opens up the Irish market for us. It's the only show we do over there and it gives us opportunities to give ourselves a bigger market."
Many local growers in Ireland also believe that the show is important. Internationally known County Kilkenny-based grower Fitzgerald Nurseries delivers on Danish trollies all over Europe and will use this year's Kildare Growers Trade Show to showcase its new Carex oshimensis 'Everest' and Ceanothus 'Tuxedo'.
THE ECONOMIC CONTEXT
The Irish economy has overheated and is officially in recession. New housebuilding has stalled, in a telling precursor of what is happening in the UK. This is bad news for horticulture, as the housebuilding boom had previously fuelled the economy - and business for commercial growers and landscapers. But growers say there are still opportunities for horticulture.
The Economic & Social Research Institute (ESRI) says Ireland is experiencing a recession for the first time since 1983.
The Irish economy seems to closely mirror the UK's - except it has flown slightly closer to the sun and it got burnt much quicker.
Around 90,000 homes were built in Ireland last year as developers took advantage of low interest rates, compared with 200,000 in the UK, which has 15-times the population. This year, with prices already falling, another 70,000 homes will have to find buyers.
The entire Irish economy depends on property. It accounts for 15 per cent of economic output, 17 per cent of tax revenues and 64 per cent of bank lending.
But there is some cause for optimism. For 2009, the ESRI expects an upturn with real GNP expected to grow by 1.9 per cent and real GDP expected to grow by two per cent.
Owner of Kildare-based Amor Nurseries Brendan Guilfoyle says: "There has been a downturn in the Irish economy in the past 12 to 18 months. But most people would probably say they had a reasonably good spring brought about by much better weather from the last weekend in April until June. People made up for lost ground over that period. But before that, in March and April, the garden centres were having a quiet time of it."
Most are now happy overall about spring sales, according to Guilfoyle. He says: "The big change in the market in Ireland is in the construction industry. That fuelled the so-called Celtic Tiger over the past five years.
"That has virtually ground to a halt now and that is having an effect on the landscape contracting industry dealing with new-builds.
"Overall the picture of the economy in general is similar to that of the UK. Oil prices are increasing and interest rates are increasing. There is a little bit of uncertainty and a lack of confidence in the market.
"But opportunities are there because people are in a position where they are rethinking where they are in the market. They have to change strategies because of the negative market forces out there. There's still scope for horticulture businesses."
He adds: "Horticulture has proven to be recession proof. The Government told us we are officially in recession. Retail sales in the high street are down, but because garden centre retail sales have been strong in the past six to eight weeks the indications are still good for horticulture businesses if you're ready to take advantage of it. There is still plenty of optimism there."