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Teagasc nursery stock March and April update on Covid-19

A machine at a nursery in operation. Photo: Courtesy of Teagasc.

Dónall Flanagan, nursery stock ornamentals specialised adviser at Teagasc, provides insight into the impact of Covid-19 on the trade.

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Horticulture

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25 March 2020 | 0

This is an ever evolving story and as such may be out of date at the time of reading. You are encouraged to check out the government website for the latest information, as well as the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s (DAFM) Covid-19 service.

April 3 update:

Teagasc’s Horticulture Development Department has developed some focused factsheets and resources for the broad horticulture sectors in response to COVID-19.

Teagasc’s “COVID 19: Guidelines and Recommendations for Safeguarding staff on Horticulture facilitiescontains a lot of information for growers to update their training, policies and manage physical distancing at an operational level. It also provides an opportunity to mitigate the potential negative impacts of incidence and spread of Covid 19 among staff.

March 27 update: 

A list of essential retail outlets has been updated to exclude “hardware stores, builders’ merchants and stores that provide hardware products necessary for home and business maintenance, sanitation and farm equipment, supplies and tools essential for gardening/farming/agriculture” as an essential retail outlet. In the original story below, this designation was declared an essential retail outlet but is no longer.

However, the designation, “hardware stores, builder’s merchants and stores that provide hardware products necessary for home and business maintenance, sanitation and farm equipment, supplies and tools essential for gardening/farming/agriculture” has been placed under a list called “Businesses that can only offer emergency call-out or delivery services” with this list being accompanied by the description “It is recognised that there may be emergency needs arising in a number of areas, the following retailers who can offer an emergency call-out or delivery service can continue to operate on that basis ONLY” and it goes on to list businesses including the designation above. Strict social distancing measures must be adhered to at all times.

Is Horticulture included as an essential business? 

It is important to note that according to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s (DAFM) FAQ list, yes, horticultural production, including nurseries, is deemed to be included within the Agriculture Essential Business List. Activities may include cultivation and supply of fruit and vegetables and the ongoing seasonal planting, harvest and maintenance of horticulture plants.”

Again, social distancing measures must be adhered to at all times.

Original story:

by Dónall Flanagan

I hope that you, your family, and colleagues are well and safe at this unprecedented time. For our sector, there has already been a colossal immediate impact of the control measure for COVID-19.

Plant sales of shrubs, bedding, and perennial nurseries were hit badly last week, many nurseries getting no orders, at a time which should see a peak in sales.

This creates a space utilisation difficulty as out going stock is required to make space for newly planted stock.

As of today, Tuesday, the picture is uncertain for retail. UK garden centres have just been closed for 21 days until at least April 14, Easter Sunday. Online trade can continue during this time. I’ve spoken with some growers canceling orders of young plants, most are waiting to see what happens.

Update: The government on Wednesday released a list of essential retail outlets which can be found here. One bullet in particular outlines “hardware stores, builders’ merchants and stores that provide hardware products necessary for home and business maintenance, sanitation and farm equipment, supplies and tools essential for gardening/farming/agriculture” as an essential retail outlet.

Tree sales have also dropped but the timing comes with improved ground conditions and planting needing attention.

Reports I’ve received are that most garden centres are open for business, though a few have shut e.g. Powerscourt, Springmount and Glanbia plant stores.

Most cafes/restaurants are closed with limited takeaways in a few. Internet sales are good by all accounts and some garden centres have set up click and collect e.g. Arboretum and Newlands Garden Centres and Fernhill offer a personal shopper and payment in the carpark.

Many online garden retailers are advising of possible delays in delivery due to volume of demand. I’ve been told that many garden centres are busy with sales of seed, veg plugs, seed potatoes, and tools. This is good for cash flow and will keep people busy.

Landscaping has been mixed, some bigger projects are on hold on a week by week review. Landscape maintenance varies widely and will depend on the clients needs and safety of the landscape crew.

The European situation as of today (Tuesday) is that there is significant restrictions in plant retail. My understanding is that only Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, and Germany (except Bavaria) have garden centres open as normal.

In some countries e.g. Italy, nursery businesses are still open. The widely shared video clips of the flower action in Netherlands dumping flowers is a harsh sight for growers.

Teagasc have begun weekly briefings to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) of the situation in horticulture. I will continue to keep in touch with as many as I can to report the impact to growers. It is important that on-the-ground information is available to relate to them.

Our nursery sector has been brilliant at supporting one and other during previous challenges and I know that we will look out for our friends and colleagues over the coming months. Please keep in touch and stay safe.

Managing stock in the uncertain times is challenging. There are a few ways we can buy time and maintain high quality.

  • Consider prioritising stock for key sectors: veg and herb plugs are in demand.
  • Young stock in smaller sizes might have more appeal than bigger finished stock as time is available now to nurture plants.
  • Smaller pot size may suit online sales.
  • Perennials plugs planned for 2-3l could be potted into P9s, giving a few weeks to see how markets return.
  • Slowing stock development by spacing and growing as cool as possible.

The impact of a product containing Ethephon on the flowering of an Angelonia. Photo: Greenhouse Product News.

  • Hormone (PGR) treatment of some plug and liner stock can slow development and increase branching
    • annuals, perennials and woody plants e.g. lavender can be considered, see to the right.
  • Limited flower delay with some PGR treatments e.g. Configure and Salvia, Pansy etc.
  • Some perennials can take a “hair cut” and allow them to flush later.
  • Limited potential to refrigerate some herbaceous perennials if they have not started growth yet.

The trade can subscribe to the Teagasc Nursery Stock Newsletter here.

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