Growers in ornamentals sector face uncertain future, NFU warns

A third of UK ornamental firms could fail due to the impacts of Covid-19, it has been estimated
A third of UK ornamental firms could fail due to the impacts of Covid-19, it has been estimated

Growers in the ornamentals sector face an 'uncertain future' after the government ruled out financial support for plants and flowers wasted due to the Covid-19 crisis.

The sector, worth more than £24bn to the UK economy and employing over 500,000 people, saw mass wastage due to coronavirus related market closures.

The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) recently estimated that a third of UK ornamental businesses could fail due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a letter to the NFU, Defra minister Lord Gardiner said that offering compensation would not deliver value for money for the public.

He said businesses should instead be encouraged to access other support measures such as Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) loans.

In contrast, one of the UK’s largest competitors, the Netherlands, launched a 600m euro aid package for affected ornamentals firms to mitigate losses and help with business recovery.

NFU horticulture board chair Ali Capper said it was 'very disappointing' to see the government's lack of support for the sector.

"Government has felt that the ornamentals sector needs no further support other than a loans mechanism that will leave businesses in debt for many years to come.

“At the same time, our key competitors are being given the support that not only helps them survive but gives them the confidence to invest for the future."

She said Defra's decision seemed 'counter intuitive' at a time when the UK was looking to take back control, and when improving the UK’s biosecurity was more important than ever.

“The number of ornamental businesses facing insolvency has reduced due to the industry’s successful campaigning for garden centres to be among the first retailers allowed to re-open."

The NFU and HTA have been in talks with the financial firms to explain the difficulties growers have found with CBILS, which has led to banks developing more flexible options to support growers’ concerns.

Ms Capper added: “The NFU will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure this decision does not undermine the viability of the sector and that the industry is supported by government in policy making.”