The impact of continuous bad weather on ornamental producers in the 2012/13 financial year has been highlighted in the latest farm business survey, which reveals alarming drops in incomes.
In 2012/13, profitability fell 47 per cent for all specialist glasshouses and 38 per cent for hardy nursery stock. Ornamentals glasshouse growers saw income drop 54 per cent in 2012 compared with 2011.
The researchers were Richard Crane, Helen Christopher and Rod Vaughan from the University of Reading's school of agriculture. Their report, Horticulture Production in England, found that in 2012 horticulture output was £2,863m, the same as 2011. It was 12 per cent of total agricultural output. Non-edibles production was £1,048m. They found the UK is 49 per cent self-sufficient in ornamentals.
Plants were 10 per cent more expensive average price received in 2012 than in 2010. Heating, soil improvers and fertiliser costs went up 26-27 per cent between 2010 and 2012.
HTA nursery business improvement scheme manager Will George said: "Of course it's worrying, or more to the point was worrying. This is the harvest year ending March 2013, which is now almost a year ago, and things have moved on.
"Firstly, the 12 months from April 2012 to March 2013 were the worst for continuous bad weather. The first quarter of 2013 was the worst for plant sales for ages due to poor weather giving some very poor results."
He added: "In NBIS output (sales) fell by 12.75 per cent and 'surplus' (sales less costs) fell by 76 per cent for those nurseries supplying the retail sectors.
"Those supplying garden centres were worst hit at this time although young plant producers were less so, although things became worse as the rest of the year progressed and their customers reduced their orders as a cost-cutting exercise. Nurseries supplying the amenity sector did better.
"However, while the young plant sector continued to decline well into 2013, those supplying the garden centre sector started to pick up. By the end of the year even the young plant producers were also starting to pick up. By the end of 2013, although there was no overall increase in sales, the 'surplus' had increased beyond what it was before that year.
"Although it is in no way an easy industry to be in, things are definitely not as disastrous as the reports make out. It is very much a case of 'growing for profit' setting realistic targets, controlling costs and cutting out waste."
Commenting on the findings for all agricultural sectors, the university's rural business research chief executive Dr Paul Wilson said: "This eighth series of reports arguably represents a turning point in the average financial fortunes of agricultural and horticultural businesses across England.
"Average farm business income fell 30 per cent from the previous year's results. We may yet look back to the harvest of 2011 and conclude this represented a high point for the industry." He added that the weather from April 2012 to March 2013 was "hopefully atypical".
Latest figures - Farm business income falls
The hardy nursery stock sector saw a 37 per cent drop in farm business income (total farm output, minus cost) between 2011-12 and 2012-13.
Costs for seed and young plants rose by 20 per cent, while fertiliser and compost costs were up 10 per cent. Hardy nursery stock represents 25 per cent of total horticulture produce value. Protected non-edibles make up 11 per cent.
The survey shows that non-edible land area is 12,308ha, down from 16,060ha in 2004. Output was up 41 per cent between 2001-03 and 2010-12.