Ornamental growers from across South West Wales got to tour the facilities of a hugely successful daffodil grower, as well as tap into the knowledge of a leading industry expert.
Following on from a number of initial events held last autumn, Horticulture Wales staged its latest networking event for ornamental growers across Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire, and Pembrokeshire earlier this month. A packed schedule gave the growers the opportunity to tour the daffodil fields at Springfields Fresh Produce, before moving on to an afternoon session where Neil Alcock, Manager of wholesale garden nursery Seiont Nurseries, offered advice on subjects such as joint purchasing and social media marketing.
The day began with a site visit to Springfields Fresh Produce in Manorbier. Run by husband and wife team Nick and Pat Bean for more than 30 years, the business grows a variety of edible crops, including award-winning asparagus, strawberries, cherries and blueberries, but on this occasion, the focus was very much on its daffodil production. Currently comprising 12 hectares of land spread across 10 separate fields, around 360 tonnes worth of daffodils are planted every year. The group were told how the business had teamed up with two other local growers in recent years – Brooks Grove Farm and Hook Farm – as part of the Puffin Produce co-operative to successfully sell daffodils to Asda stores throughout Wales under ‘Blas Y Tir’ brand.
Following the daffodil tour, the group headed to the Castlemead Hotel in Manorbier, where they enjoyed an incredibly informative discussion led by Neil Alcock of Seiont Nurseries in Carmarthen, who generously shared his 25 plus years industry experience.
Neil began by giving an insight into joint purchasing. Group buying obviously offers a number of benefits – helping growers to reduce costs by improving economies of scale; encouraging smaller but more frequent deliveries not only improves cash flow, but also ensures growers don’t end up with surplus stock; and giving growers the opportunity to try new products and expand their range. Many of the barriers that often hinder individual growers (e.g. minimum orders, delivery charges, and a general feeling of ‘I’m too small’) can also be overcome through pooling resources.
And while joint purchasing is a positive for growers, it also throws up a number of advantages for suppliers too, namely regular custom, increased orders, and – in many cases – a single delivery point that makes transportation more efficient.
Neil outlined a number of areas potentially suitable for group buying:
Pots and trays – Neil revealed Seiont Nurseries uses around one million pots a year, and as a result, it had joined forces with four other nurseries to obtain group rates that saved 15% of the cost for a total of seven million pots and 350,000 trays
Compost and growing media
Pesticides – Neil highlighted this as a great opportunity for group buying, as these tend to be expensive products that are often only purchased for a single annual use
Labour and staff training – admittedly a difficult area to coordinate joint purchasing, but with labour and salaries accounting for up to 40% of a nursery’s running costs, one that definitely needs considering… Neil highlighted a number of schemes currently running in the South East of England where nurseries share agency or seasonal workers, while he also explained how he would often tie-in staff training with other growers.
Neil advised the group that the starting point for any joint purchasing agreement was to identify and settle on suppliers and products, before working out the required volumes – he stressed how important it was for growers to be realistic regarding quantities. He also encouraged them to actually invite potential suppliers to group meetings so that relationships could be built.
This part of the discussion ended with Neil declaring that once a joint purchasing group gets going, growers often find they have many other areas in common where they can work together too – namely transport and delivery, and even group marketing.
Opportunities in Welsh Ornamental Horticulture
The conversation then widened into a general discussion about the state of the current ornamental market in Wales, and the opportunities that were available for businesses to grow. Neil charted his journey from starting up in ornamentals 26 years ago as an unknown producer of conifers and rhododendrons, to becoming one of the country’s most successful and respected suppliers of new plants, selling all across the UK and Europe.
‘New products with unique selling points’ are absolutely crucial, although according to Neil many growers are still only comfortable growing what they know or what they like – he is passionate that growers mustn’t simply grow what they like, but grow what will actually sell.
This mind-set saw him contact breeders and agents of protected new varieties in order to try and broaden his range, a move that met with spectacular results. At one point the nursery doubled its production from 150,000 plants to 300,000 in just two years, while it currently produces 1.2 million plants a year, of which 60% are new or licensed products. Plants are shipped to finishers that supply the likes of B&Q, Dobbies, and the Garden Centre Group, or across Europe to Holland, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Poland – the latter part of a fast-growing Eastern European market.
Neil did concede that he did want to increase the nursery’s number of Welsh customers, revealing a tantalising opportunity for growers. Currently, many of Seiont Nurseries’ plants are supplied to finishers based in the South East or East of England, before the final product is actually sold back in Wales – why couldn’t these plants be finished in Wales by Welsh growers or grower-retailers?...
A thoroughly entertaining and informative day ended with Neil reminding growers that customer service is every bit as important as a top quality product, and that social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are a fantastic ‘free’ way of advertising their business and reaching out to new audiences.
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