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Coronavirus: Plant growers warn of going bankrupt

Just 1% of plant growing businesses have received financial support from the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans scheme. (Getty)

A third of plant growing firms say they could go bankrupt by the end of the year due to the coronavirus pandemic, unless immediate action is taken by the UK government, according to a survey by the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA).

Fewer than one in five growers has received financial aid from the government's raft of coronavirus business support packages.

Growers could be forced to throw away millions of unsold plants due to a lack of demand from buyers following the closure of "non-essential" shops during the coronavirus lockdown.

This time of year would normally be peak business for garden centres with 70% of plants sold between March and June.

The HTA is calling on the government to find a way to compensate growers and re-open garden centres “as soon as possible”.

“Current UK government support does not consider the total loss of annual income for growers, which is largely seasonal. Over three-fifths (62%) of growers said that they were not eligible for business support grants, while nearly four in five (79%) growers are not entitled to any kind of rates relief,” said the HTA.

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Meanwhile just 1% of plant growing businesses have received financial support from the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans scheme (CBILS).

James Barnes, chair of the HTA, said rapid action needed to be taken in the next fortnight, to avoid hefty losses of British grown plants and an increase in competition from foreign imports.

“In the Netherlands, the government has announced a scheme to help its industry while at the same time leaving garden centres open, meaning that Dutch growers will be perfectly positioned to supply the UK market if the British sector collapses,” the HTA said.

Celebrity gardener Alan Titchmarsh is supporting the HTA’s plea for help, saying: “Put simply, if the government is unable to offer a compensation scheme on the lines of that already put in place by the Dutch government, and independent garden centres remain closed, then our beloved British garden industry is on the brink of destruction.

“The longer the delay continues, the more costly the solution. Aside from the catastrophic economic implications, such imports leave our nation open to the risk of all the infectious diseases and pests that for the last decade British horticulture has worked so hard to avoid.

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“We need to buy British not only to save our plant industry but also to help deliver on our climate change and plant health ambitions in the future”.