Four Oaks: British still in the dark about Brexit effects

It was business as usual, is what many people said at the end of the Four Oaks Trade Show. The atmosphere at the British fair was positive and sales within the United Kingdom are going well. Dutch exporters are preparing for the situation after Brexit. British entrepreneurs on the other hand, are still completely in the dark about the effects of Brexit.

Unsurprisingly, Brexit was one of the most-discussed topics at the Four Oaks Trade Show, which was held in Lower Withington (near Manchester) on 4 and 5 September. “Brexit came up in many conversations”, says Kees de Frankrijker, whose company P. de Frankrijker & Zonen from Boskoop is one of the regular exhibitors. “But the consequences of Brexit are still unclear.”

Dutch exporters have been strongly advised by governmental organisations and pressure groups to prepare themselves for Brexit for quite some time now. The United Kingdom will no longer be an EU country after March 2019, so there might be border controls again, which will increase waiting times and require more paperwork, and the import regulations will probably also be stricter, to protect the UK against pests and diseases.

British buyers came to Four Oaks to see new plants and products and to catch up with their network. Brexit was a much-discussed topic.

“We’re ready for it”, says De Frankrijker, who already has experience with exports to another non-EU country: Norway. “When you export to Norway, you must keep track of all the paperwork for example. We’ve already been doing that for a while.” But what’s going to be required exactly once the British have left the EU, nobody knows. “We’ll have to wait and see”, says De Frankrijker. “For the time being, it’s business as usual. Our sales are good, we already have a lot of orders, so we can’t complain.”

‘They’ll still have to buy’

Adriaan van de Bijl of the tree nursery with the same name from Opheusden, also left Four Oaks with a positive feeling. “The atmosphere was good. Trees are popular in the UK, so there’s plenty of demand. As for Brexit? The British will still have to buy, and we’ll be selling as normal.” Van de Bijl doesn’t see too many problems with the UK’s departure from the EU. “I’m sure they’ll find a solution. If they want to have more inspections and that’s going to cost money, so be it.” As long as the extra costs are justified, is his opinion.

Foreign exhibitors at Four Oaks already got a preview of the stricter import regulations last week. Before the opening of the trade show, British phytosanitary agents from FERA asked anyone with xylella host plants to show the compulsory EU plant passports. Van de Bijl didn’t mind. “It’s nothing more than the delivery note listing the required ZP codes.”

Plantline was awarded Best International Stand. The flying Dutchman from Boskoop, who has a few fixed routes in Great Britain, always has an impressive stand at Four Oaks. Just like previous years, at least 35% at this 48th edition of Four Oaks was from abroad.

Many of the British attendees did bring up Brexit though, and the situation after Brexit was definitely a point of discussion at Four Oaks. “Nobody in the UK knows what’s going to happen next”, explained Neil Alcock of Seiont Nurseries. “It’s a big question mark for all of us and you can’t prepare yourself for the unknown.”

‘Politicians don’t know either’

Another person who says he has no idea what Brexit is going to mean for the British, is Nigel Goodall of Morley Nurseries, who attended the trade show as a visitor. “Our politicians should know, because it’s going to happen within half a year now, but even they don’t know.” Goodall does have a certain impression, though. “Our customers are giving me the feeling that they’ll buy their plants in the UK, if they can get them here.”

Goodall caught up with colleagues at Four Oaks and spoke with many about the past season. “The winter was harsh and after that, we didn’t really get a spring season, but went straight into the long, hot summer instead.” Luckily, it didn’t have a negative impact on their sales. “The great thing about the hot summer was that the British were able to enjoy their gardens for such a long time. Normally, we’re waiting for a dry spell in between showers, during which we run out and do some quick barbecuing.”

Dryopteris wallichiana Jurassic Gold was awarded Best Nursery Stock Introduction at Four Oaks. The hardy garden fern, submitted by Seiont Nurseries and Genesis Plant Marketing, was discovered near the Jurassic Coast in the south of England. Two other plants received High Commendations: Echinacea Full Salmon (Allensmore Nurseries) and Rudbeckia Forever Gold (Rijnbeek & Zoon).

More individual buyers

The current situation in the UK is positive. “We’re receiving plenty of orders; 80% of our stock has already been reserved”, says Goodall. And according to Pat Coutts, organiser of the trade show, sales at Four Oaks were normal. “Business as usual”, she says at the end of the fair. “As always, plants did well, but a lot of irrigation systems were sold too.”

According to Coutts, there were many more buyers from individual garden centres at Four Oaks than last year. She noticed there were also some buyers from chains that are in a transition phase. Most of the Wyevale Garden Centres for example, are still for sale; eight branches were sold to Blue Diamond Garden and Living Centres and another four to individual garden centres. And Homebase are selling 42 of their 241 DIY stores.

Some British growers said they’re happy about the split-up of Wyevale. Goodall has already seen his sales increase. “We never supplied to Wyevale before, but we’ve been selling to them since Blue Diamond purchased eight of their garden centres.”







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