Specialist plant growers fear the reopening of Scotland’s garden centres has come too late to save them from overwhelming losses that are putting their businesses at risk.
The wipe-out of 2020’s bedding plant market has already cost Nairnshire farmer Donald Green around £1 million and he is now struggling to continue the business he has built up over 40 years.
As he stands in a glasshouse surrounded by thousands of withered and dead plants, Mr Green says early prospects of support for a scrappage scheme to compensate producers caught out at the very peak of their annual harvest have amounted to nothing.
“I understand it’s not just us who’ve suffered from lockdown losses but I’m not sure the Scottish Government has fully recognised the extent of our problem,” he said.
“Ours is an industry which is unsubsidised and just quietly gets on with it. We don’t ask for any handouts or support, but things are fairly desperate now and we’re just one of many horticultural businesses in the same boat. We furloughed all our staff and have brought some back now that the garden centres are open but we’re struggling to see how we can continue. We’ve been lobbying our MP and MSP but nothing is forthcoming.”
The family’s Green for Grow business employs 30 people and specialises in supplying bedding plants and alpines to 90 independent garden centres, nurseries and shops across Scotland. When lockdown was introduced only 5% of the bedding plants had been sold, and despite doing home deliveries since late March, it has been a drop in the ocean.
Mr Green said: “We are looking at losses of around £1 million this season as a result of waste and lost sales. It’s really worrying. I think – I hope – we’ll make it, but we’re going to take a massive hit.”
Other horticultural businesses contacted by The Courier were unwilling to discuss the extent of the losses they have incurred, but a government spokesperson said ministers were aware of the heavy impact the pandemic is having on the industry.
The spokesperson added: “We recognise that the horticultural sector is facing unprecedented pressures and ministers continue to listen to and liaise with the industry as we continue to explore how best to help during this economic crisis.”
The farmers’ union said growers had reported problems accessing the UK Government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme as they are subject to the EU state aid rules that apply to agriculture. The Horticultural Trade Association, supported by NFU Scotland, continues to call for a targeted package of financial aid for businesses that have incurred significant losses.