Industry bodies will propose codes of practice for ornamental growers this autumn after a disasterous spring season in which retailers rejected orders from growers.
"This time last year, I warned about the challenges," said NFU chief horticulture advisor Hayley Campbell-Gibbons.
"One year on, I will launch a code of garden trading practice for ornamental sellers that will pick up on the Grocery Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP) to help influence the supply chain."
The code will be launched at the British Protected Ornamentals Association's (BPOA) Build Better Business event on 9 October (see box).
A precedent exists with the GSCOP. Adjudicator Christine Tacon said supermarket chains could face fines of up to £1bn if they bully their suppliers in new rules to be presented to the Government in October.
Since June it has had the power to arbitrate on behalf of suppliers in dispute with retailers.
Campbell-Gibbons said GSCOP "oddly" did not include plants and flowers but could be used to influence buyers to make a voluntary move before a possible extension of the code.
She has sent her draft ornamentals code to the HTA supply chain panel, which will discuss the issue at the HTA Seasonal Plant Focus event at Young Plants on 21 November (see box).
The NFU code recommends contract terms and is a "platform for a relationship that people will inevitably develop themselves".
She said she would be happy if the code provoked only debate about better ways of doing things in the horticulture supply chain.
Campbell-Gibbons said the "catalyst for change" was last year's BPOA conference, where growers were "vocal" about supply chain issues.
This was exacerbated in 2013 when the season had a bad start, with retailers turning orders away. Outdoor plant sales were down 60 per cent in March, with cold weather forcing retailers to cut orders from nurseries.
She said ornamentals needs a "more bespoke" system than GSCOP, adding that GSCOP had already "curbed the worst excesses" of retailers, in part because all agreements must be in writing.
Waitrose buyers are believed to be working to GSCOP standards on horticulture buying.
NFU vice-president Adam Quinney will attend the event and BPOA chair Ian Riggs will chair it.
Campbell-Gibbons said she hoped to work with the HTA on the issue.
HTA seasonal bedding plant chair Alex Newey has advocated a "moral code of practice" to give growers a fallback if their plants are rejected by retailers.
Newey, who is managing director of Young Plants, said: "One of the problems in this industry is the growers take all the risk, so the retailer orders plants and the growers grow them and if the sun doesn't shine, the retailer doesn't want the order.
"We need to find a mechanism to understand how to progress forward, because unless there's some changes some growers are going to go out of business. We could be doing much more as an industry to explain to our customers when you're growing something for someone you're taking on board all the costs - you probably can't sell the plants elsewhere. One of my jobs is to raise awareness of this problem and create discussion platforms to find a way to move forward."
He added: "I don't think they'll make a code of practice that will have any legal teeth, but a good start would be a moral code of practice whereby if a retailer orders a product from a grower there's a moral contract that everyone enters into, because, in the end, it's something to fall back on - at the moment, there's nothing."
But You Garden managing director Peter McDermott said: "As ideas, these are great but application is nearly impossible."
He said overseas growers could step in and take advantage of agreements between British growers and retailers to undercut the growers. McDermott said there was not enough effort made by the industry to create value and promote the value of plants.
Dates for the diary
- The British Protected Ornamentals Association's Build Better Business is at Stoneleigh on 9 October.
- HTA Seasonal Plant Focus is at Young Plants, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, on 21 November