The view from the Netherlands

In Zundert for Groet Groen Plus, Gemma Mackenzie quizzed the Dutch on their view of UK and other markets.

Despite the looming spending cuts, Dutch growers are keeping upbeat about exports to Britain and the growing eastern European markets.

As everyone in the UK held their breath in anticipation of the Government's comprehensive spending review, Dutch growers exhibiting at the Groot Groen Plus show in Zundert continued to display optimism about the market across Europe for the coming year.

Although many acknowledge the imminent cuts in Government departmental budgets, sales overall are up on last year and, with a rise in eastern European exports, the overall outlook is positive.

Trade nursery Lodders Boomkwekerijen managing director Marc Lodders, a forestry and hedging expert, acknowledged the recent difficulties in exporting to the UK. "The pound has been very bad and we missed a lot of turnover last year in the UK because of the expensive euro," he says.

Despite this, the outlook for next year looks more positive, he says. "It seems our plants are back in business this year. It might be that the UK is used to an expensive euro, that they need our plants or that production in the UK is too small, but it seems to be better this year."

Lodders says he is worried about the issue of Government cuts but notes that it is a continent-wide pandemic and not exclusive to the UK. "It worries us - we mainly supply for landscaping - but this is happening within the whole of Europe. It's not only in the UK," he points out.

He says the nursery receives differing requests from its import countries: "Landscaping markets are different all over Europe. For example, Germany is a big market that asks for strong and bushy plants, but in the UK it's all about size. The east is developing and we see that they want strong plants, and in Scandinavia they use small plants to grow up - they have more time."

Tim Van Hulle from Belgian tree specialist Sylva Nurseries acknowledges the UK Government cuts but says the effect is not likely to hit before 2012. "Next year will be good because the cuts will not have the effect for this year. It all depends on the grants that are being approved year by year and therefore it's not this year that will be the issue, but next year," he adds.

"We do some business in the UK and I visited twice last year. There were positive signs that the market is recovering from the crisis. The cuts are being established at the moment and it's a little bit uncertain, but from my information, this year will be good."

The nursery exports 95 per cent of its stock and has seen a rise in the eastern European markets. Van Hulle said: "The market over in eastern Europe is very good but very competitive. They are recovering quite fast and that's good for the prices of everything."

On the economic crisis, he adds: "I think the crisis is nearly finished, but I still have to handle some problems. For now there are less margins and in order to improve the margins we have to reduce our costs."

Bert de Martelaer of De Martelaer, which won the gold medal for best new introduction at the show, says: "I think if there's one market in the sector that's keeping up, it's eastern Europe. In the past people used the land around their house to keep vegetables, but now they want to keep up with their neighbours and have a nice garden, and there's planting in the cities."

He says the slump in UK sales in previous years has resulted in them taking advantage of the eastern European markets. "We see that export in the UK for two years is not as it was before. That's why we orientated ourselves to the east in the past five years. I now hear rumours from our customers in the UK that the market is picking up a bit again, so maybe in a few years the UK will pick up again and the direction will be vice versa," he suggests.

However, despite the growth in the eastern European markets, there are very often added costs at customs. Henk de Bie of the Richard de Bie tree nursery in Zundert explains: "In the past three years the good markets were in Russia and Ukraine, but they asked a lot at customs and that's not so good for us. The plants were too expensive in Ukraine and Russia so the governments there were asking for more money. The English and German markets are doing better now."

Denis Christiansen from Boomkwekerijk Gebr Christiansen has had steady sales since beginning direct export to the UK last year. "Last year was the first time that I sold to the UK so it was at the time when everyone said there's no export to the UK because of the higher value of the British pound," he says. Orders from his UK customers for this year are of the same volume as last year, he adds.

Ron Willemsen, commercial manager at transport firm Worldwide Logistics, says: "I think exports to the UK will only increase because they were not that good last year. But 2010 is a lot better and I expect a lot from 2011."

Sharing optimism with fellow Groot Groen Plus exhibitors, he concludes: "I don't think the Government in the UK is the biggest buyer of goods so if it cuts back some things, I expect other people to start buying again."

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