Southern Growers Exhibition News: Host hails industry's resilience to recession

Bedding plants have proved resistant to the pressures of the economy, said Roundstone managing director Peter Cook, speaking as the host of a successful Southern Growers Exhibition this week.

After a year in one of the biggest jobs in the ornamentals industry, supplying the UK with bedding and home-grown poinsettias, he said: "Our customers have performed well through the recession as people have stayed at home and spent a bit of money on their gardens and houses. Bedding plants have a low entry cost for adding a bit of colour. Our industry has proved more resilient than others such as the car market."

UK growers have benefited from exchange rates as well as the weather this year and Cook added: "One of the few benefits of the weakening pound was more conversation between UK retailers and wholesalers about UK supply. But, on the other hand, some input costs have increased."

Cook said hosting Southern Growers for the first time was a great experience and a way to use the Roundstone glasshouses in the quiet times: "The Holy Grail for every grower in the land is using your glasshouses in the off season."

This year, Southern Growers featured seminars on peat reduction and recycling. Cook explained: "We're working hard here to make bedding as sustainable as possible. We've reduced peat by 30 per cent by using wood fibre and trials on some peat-free alternatives have been successful.

"It's a challenge commercially due to the extra cost of moving to a peat-free medium. At the moment, consumers are not driving the debate or a need for change and may not be willing to pay extra.

"We have plans for further peat reduction - that's why we're doing more trials on other options and working with the Growing Media Initiative. In part, it's about getting all the facts about the carbon footprints of the peat alternatives versus peat and the real sustainability of peat bogs out on the table.

"Also, peat is regarded as an acceptable fuel for power stations under EU rules, which seems contrary to government-led peat-reduction plans."

On recycling and particularly expanded polystyrene (EPS) plant trays, Cook remarked that with the Garden Centre Group reverting to EPS the debate on the packaging is ongoing. "EPS is efficient and a good format for the plants we produce but domestic recycling is very limited. It is recyclable and we already send it for commercial recycling as part of our own environmental process," he added.

"We ran a test on EPS recycling with one garden centre customer this year but the consumer response was low. It's not on shoppers' radar yet, but they will separate bottles and cans so maybe it is possible to educate them to drop off polystyrene for recycling in the same way.

"There currently are alternatives to EPS and plastic trays but they are three or four times more expensive. Again, it's a balance between the commercial costs and the environment but a difference can be made by lobbying councils to provide EPS recycling."

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