Covid-19: Online offers little hope for horticultural sales says HTA

The UK's ornamental horticultural sector is facing more than £1 billion in lost sales and ruined products due to the Covid-19-related closure of garden centres – and it has warned that the unique nature of its products means that online sales offer little hope of salvation.

The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) said that if garden centres remain closed then the value of lost plants sales will reach £687 million by the end of June, and £1.2 billion by the end of December.

Due to the perishable nature of products, the growers and suppliers in the sector would face a 'total loss'. According to the HTA around 650 businesses – many of them small family companies – are affected. Around 70% of bedding plant sales are made between March and the end of May. Many of these growers are facing huge difficulties and a near complete loss of income due to the coronavirus – and small, delicate plants are mostly sold from physical outlets.

“This spring could well bring about the end of British horticulture as we know it. Hundreds of nursery owners and growers are facing huge losses of plants and revenue simply because the stock they have spent many months nurturing for the spring market – the peak season – will have to be destroyed since garden centres and other outlets are closed for business,” said gardener and television presenter Alan Titchmarsh MBE. He has joined the HTA in calling for a government rescue package for the sector.

Financial measures available to help the agricultural sector are not appropriate for businesses in the ornamental sector, said HTA chairman James Barnes, adding that companies may also face difficulties in planting stock for next year.

“Stock is one of the biggest components of asset value in the sector - stock write offs will destroy the balance sheets of many and make it impossible for them to continue” said Barnes. “We are calling for the government to work with the HTA, as the industry’s representative body, to come up with a financial support scheme to help those businesses which have had to scrap perishable stock and are facing a huge financial crisis.”