How Coronavirus is impacting West Sussex’s horticultural industry

Horticulture is the biggest industry in the Chichester area and the second biggest in Arun, worth over £1bn and employing 10,000 people, according to the West Sussex Growers Association.

But the sector is currently facing ‘extreme challenges’ due to the coronavirus pandemic.

John Hall, of the West Sussex Growers Association, said the ornamental side of the sector – which concerns all non-edible produce such as flowers and bedding plants – was experiencing ‘great difficulty’.

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The local area has some of the biggest nurseries in the country which supply supermarket and garden centres across the whole of the UK.

But Mr Hall said: “Sales have come to a complete standstill. All the garden centres are closed, most of the supermarkets are not taking plants at the moment.”

Nurseries are currently being run by a skeleton staff to look after the plants, but he said: “With everyday that goes by, more and more plants are heading to the skip or to the compost.

“These plants are so seasonable, there’s only one opportunity to sell these and it’s now.”

He added: “Obviously they are trying to sell plants locally and online, but it’s a drop in the ocean compared to where these plants should be going.”

When it comes to the food business side – the local production of tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, herbs and berries – Mr Hall said the biggest problem was getting enough workers now and in the summer months.

“Traditionally, we’ve been reliant over the last 20 years on lots of Eastern Europeans coming to do a lot of this work and of course, a lot of those have not been able to get here this year,” he said.

However appeals calling for workers had generated ‘quite a lot of responses’, he said, adding: “We are getting quite a lot of responses from students who are back from university.”

He said the association was also hoping it may become permitted for workers placed on furlough by their employers to work in the industry, which he said would be ‘helpful’.

Anyone looking for paid work harvesting the crops should contact the {|the West Sussex Growers Association on its website here).

The call for workers has been backed by the Coastal West Sussex Partnership.

Director Caroline Wood said the horticultural industry was ‘a vital part of the coastal economy’ which was currently facing ‘extreme challenges’.

“We would urge people who are facing time away from their regular work to look for opportunities with our local producers,” she said.

“If you’re looking for new opportunities and want to help Pick for Britain then take a look at Concordia and British Summer Fruits for opportunities to get involved.”

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