The full impact of coronavirus on industry remains to be seen. Areas of the economy which have been deemed non-essential, and those which conflict with social distancing, have been hit the hardest; but all have had their own obstacles to contend with. As the cultural, hospitality and personal care sectors take tentative first steps in a post-lockdown world, we discuss the way the pandemic has affected the backbone of the horticultural industry.
For growers of indoor plants and outdoor plants, stumbling blocks brought about by the pandemic have been manifold, and all are that much more acute by virtue of dealing with living, organic matter. However, in this respect, crises brought about by natural phenomena, are familiar territory. Growers are constantly aware that their work is subject to the whims of nature: it’s the rest of us for whom this has come as a surprise.
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Unknown entities such as extreme weather and blight, along with the perilously narrow standard of supermarket traders, mean the agricultural sector factor losses into their plans as standard practice. Plants cannot be manufactured at the touch of a button when demand goes up, nor stored indefinitely when demand drops. Artificial conditions can do much to engineer growth in principle, but they’re rarely worth the environmental or economic cost in practice.
However, no amount of forward planning could have prepared for coronavirus. The time of year that Europe, and other parts of the world, went into lockdown ‘couldn’t have been worse’ said one of our Dutch growers. Spring is the season for indoor and outdoor growers alike. Spring is when people start attending to their homes and gardens - cleaning away the cobwebs of winter and making plans for their neglected outdoor areas. It is also when the majority of plants, both indoor and outdoor, enter their active growing phase. This means they’re safer to transport, they’re in far greater demand, and they meet ‘sellable’ requirements.
Consequently, a March-June peak across most of Europe was devastating news for growers. With garden centres and consumer giants like Ikea and B&Q forced to close, growers across the continent (and the world) were laden with more plants than they could house, and take care of. Smit, our featured grower this month, were forced to temporarily reduce their assortment in light of these great unknowns - as a grower who are known for holding a variety of stock, this was a huge blow, but necessary to prevent further wastage.
Growers of indoor and outdoor plants are not unique in being affected at both ends of their supply chains, and being a fundamentally global industry, these stumbling blocks have been drawn out and repeated.
In May, when the Netherlands began to loosen restrictions, countries including South Africa and Brazil, where many indoor plants are sourced and transported by cargo ship, were firmly locked down or in crisis.
Now, as lockdown restrictions are loosening, and adjustments are being made to the way the plant world operates, the future looks brighter. In fact, Smit tell us, they are now suffering from the opposite problem they had in Spring: demand has skyrocketed, but their nursery needs some catching up time!
To help compensate for the crucial losses growers have had this year, we urge customers to consider the journey their plants may have had between grower and home. The more steps in between, the tighter the margin is for growers.
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