Counting the cost of continued lockdown in Wales

Welsh growers and garden retailers are bracing themselves for the impact of continued restrictions and say they need a miracle, like that said to have been performed by their national saint, if they are to weather the storm of a second Springtime lockdown.

Speaking out ahead of a review of lockdown restrictions by the Welsh government this week, Welsh members of the sector’s trade body, the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) said Ministers should fully recognise the unique nature of the industry’s supply chain and take the huge contribution to people’s health and wellbeing made by plants and gardening into consideration.

Ornamental horticulture businesses in Wales have been unable to trade since lockdown restrictions on non-essential retail were put in place on 20th December and now, with the key Spring season and key trading dates of St David’s Day and Mother’s Day just weeks away, concern is beginning to turn to desperation as growers still have no idea what crops will be able to make it to the sales area.

Nicola Pugh, HTA Council representative for Wales, and owner of Pugh’s Garden Centre, said: “We fully understand the need to protect public health and support the government in its determination to fight the spread of Covid, but horticultural businesses are being pushed to the brink at what should be our busiest time of year.

“Plants and gardening offer incredible health and wellbeing benefits and if we are to meet the demand when reopening is possible, we need a timeline to help us manage the supply chain of perishable and seasonal crops and minimise the impact of continued uncertainty.”

Grower/retailers like Morris of Usk have been forced to make staff redundant, lost over £1m in turnover from the closure of one of their cafes and are already counting the cost of their wasted Autumn crop of violas and pansies – victims of the ‘firebreak’ lockdown in November. Now they face losing a further £20k in Springtime favourites such as daffodils, polyanthus and primroses. With no route to market, they are instead destined for a giant compost heap.

Producers like Rich Bramley of Farmyard Nurseries in Llandysul say although click and collect, which is still allowed, keeps some money coming in, it isn’t a long-term solution:

“Click and collect and mail order are helping businesses like ours as it’s a buoyant market, but they are incredibly labour intensive and don’t allow us to offer quite the same service to our customers. Our nursery grows plants that supply our garden centre. Without the ability to sell that stock in big enough quantities – quantities that just aren’t possible via mail order or click and collect – we will be looking at very challenging times from March if we’re not open again.”

On Thursday (18/2) the Government meet to review the impact of lockdown and the HTA is calling for Ministers to properly consider the re-opening of garden centres.

Chairman of the HTA, James Barnes, said: “The Welsh garden retail sector is worth £177 million annually to GDP and represents hundreds of businesses, employing thousands of people. These jobs and these livelihoods are placed at increasing risk with every day that trade is rendered impossible by lockdown restrictions. We need a timeline for re-opening to help the industry plan how to survive and to safeguard a sector that facilitates the wellbeing of the health and wealth of the nation.”

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