This an occasional blog from James Clark, HTA Policy and Communications Director, aims to update and share thoughts on the current approach we’re taking to the coronavirus, and other Government and policy initiatives in the future...

Coronavirus and Horticulture – The story so far…

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the HTA has been working for its members to support the industry and ensure a strong standing for when the country emerges on the other side of this crisis.

Financial support for growers

On 31 March, the HTA launched a campaign to Government for financial support for growers, whose businesses are being put under huge strain by the closure of garden centres over peak trading times such as Easter Bank Holiday. We know 70% of total plant nursery sales happen between March and June. This is the ‘perfect storm’ that growers face.

The Dutch Government has approved an Emergency Fund of €600million, which covers in part some of the damage to the Dutch ornamental horticulture sector. It’s a simple and understandable way to implement a stock compensation scheme.

Our approach is to continue to make the case for stock compensation: Making the case that the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan (CBIL) scheme is not fit for purpose for ornamental growers and to highlight the benefits of a Dutch-style support package. A confidential survey has been sent out asking for your inputs. Please respond generously with your data and insights.

Adapt and deliver

In all of this there has been some great examples of innovation and agility. Members have found ways to become online and home delivery businesses overnight. The HTA’s Plants Near Me website sprung up in a matter of days to help connect grower and retailer members with consumers. It’s had tens of thousands of interactions. It’s been hugely successful. But for some members it has become too much and meeting demand through deliveries is not the way these businesses can operate. We are making these points to Government – 60% of UK nursery plant sales happen in ‘bricks and mortar’ retail. Short term fixes through online or home deliveries doesn’t cut it - we need garden centres reopened to help support British growers.

Garden centre reopening

The HTA’s campaign to Government is for garden centres to be one of the first businesses to reopen whenever there is a review of lockdown. You can help with this – resources for contacting your local MP are available in the members’ section of our website. We all want to see the public health situation improve. The hope is that Government could reach a decision on this before this next three-week phase of lockdown (ending 11 May) is up. We’re asking Government to give us an early indication so garden centres can be ready to reopen in an appropriate timescale.

In order to ensure that garden centres open in a safe manner for staff and the public, the HTA is forming a series of protocols for businesses to follow. When the Government are clearer on timescales and level of social distancing needed, we’ll inform members.  

We know the stock compensation for growers and the reopening of garden centres are intrinsically linked, but it’s not an either/or. We’re asking Government for the range of measures needed to help the industry recover. 

Association of Professional Landscapers

For landscaper members, the HTA/APL worked with other organisations in the early days of lockdown to ascertain some level of clarity on travel movements to work. We produced specific guidance. It was regularly updated to reflect the changing situations. The work carries on in advising and helping members – video conferences and webinars have become the new communications channels. We’ve made the case to Government on the impacts of coronavirus lockdown on the self-employed and what members wanted to see in terms of financial support.

This is a difficult time for the industry and individuals alike, and the HTA is here to support its members in whatever way we can. Stay safe.