Preview 2009: Ornamentals production

Amenity outlook poor but hopes for retail higher

Many ornamental-plant producers feel pessimistic about the impact of the downturn on the amenity market this year, but remain upbeat about the retail market, the fall in fuel prices and the exchange rate.

Managing director Tim Edwards of amenity plant supplier Boningale said: "It's going to be a very tough year. I can't be optimistic about the amenity sector at the moment - in fact, I'm trying not to get too pessimistic."

Edwards, who is also chairman of the HTA Amenity Suppliers Group, added: "There is an enormous amount of fear in the market. More contracts are being cancelled than normal and prices are being hammered.

"Unemployment is going to go over the three million mark this year, and that is mainly in the construction industry. That can only result in a further downturn for landscaping and amenity suppliers.

"Strong companies need to get their heads down, control cash diligently and grind their way through. Weaker firms won't be able to and will go to the wall."

In terms of retail, however, Edwards had a more positive outlook: "The retail sector is an altogether different picture. Garden centre sales are influenced by the weather, not the economy, so if we get nice spring weather there will be good plant sales."

HTA president Andrew Richardson, who is managing director of Johnsons of Whixley, agreed. He said: "This is going to be a year for keeping your head down and getting on with it. There's quite a lot of concern about where amenity business will come from in the early part of the year."

Bedding grower and British Protected Ornamentals Association vice-chairman Sarah Fairhurst said the downturn will result in a reduction in speculative growing in the bedding sector. "Firms will be growing to order, and therefore there might be a shortage of plants on the market.

"But if the euro remains strong," she added, "it could be advantageous to UK growers."

Fairhurst said the EU pesticide legislation was at the forefront of growers' minds. "We are currently writing to MEPs to reject the trialogue compromise."

She added that she was encouraged by falling fuel prices but said that energy is still an issue: "Because prices are so volatile, at Porters Horticultural we have only signed a year's contract with our energy supplier, rather than the five-year contract we had previously."

Board member John Tugman of young-plant supplier Delamore said: "The recession is a concern. We're trying to gauge grower-customer confidence, and they in turn are trying to predict what the retail market is going to do this year."

He also echoed Fairhurst's concerns, saying: "There will be plant shortages because growers are being cautious - though at Delamore we are growing surplus product."

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