Putting biosecurity front and centre
The industry is using a variety of methods to tackle plant health and maximise the grower/retailer relationship
The demand for high-quality pest and disease-free plants is higher than ever. Recent figures show that plants provide an annual value of £15.7bn to the UK economy. So, the garden industry has had to work together to minimise the threat to the UK environment whilst developing a strong and thriving UK production industry.
Defra recently published a five-year (2023 – 2028) plant biosecurity strategy that highlights its vision for plant health and action plan to secure national biosecurity, protect native species and drive economic growth.
The HTA is part of the Plant Health Alliance Steering Group, the governing body of the Plant Healthy Certification Scheme. It makes it easier to identify businesses that trade and grow plants to high health and biosecurity standards.
As well as Plant Healthy, HTA actively supports the Ornamental Horticulture Assurance Scheme (OHAS). The standards within OHAS are designed to meet the specialist needs of the industry and certify growers, packers, and growing media manufacturers through independent audits carried out by a UKAS-accredited certification body.
Ball Colegrave Ltd provides independent garden centres with bedding and patio plants, perennials, as well as popular vegetable varieties. Its young plants from seed and cuttings are produced at a sister company, Bordon Hill Nurseries Ltd and as a major plant propagator, Bordon Hill aims to work to promote good plant health across all of its nursery sites. “We ensure that we follow all UK relevant plant health regulations, ensuring that staff understand their duties and have received relevant training to carry them out,” says marketing manager Stuart Lowen.
“Bordon Hill Nurseries requires key staff to maintain our Plant Health Management System by producing crops responsibly following current OHAS and Defra Codes of Practice. This includes reporting all pest and disease outbreaks and following isolation procedures as required, reviewing all plant health procedures and site and operations risk assessment, and promoting plant health awareness amongst all employees.”
Staff vigilance is also key to Taylor’s Bulbs. Andy Bean, quality and technical manager, explains: “We have a full Quality Management System which is designed to provide the framework through which the company ensures it fulfils biosecurity requirements alongside quality and service commitments to customers. We are audited annually by OHAS to ensure the latest legislation and best practice methods are followed.
“We work with our local Plant Health Inspectorate to ensure we stay up to date with the latest plant health guidance and also to inspect and maintain the health of our daffodil growing stocks.
“Each consignment of raw bulbs received travels with either a UK Plant Passport or a phytosanitary certificate depending on its origin. When booked in each stock receives a lot number which enables traceability along the full length of the supply chain, from the field to the gardener. Bulbs are quality controlled on arrival and there is an internal sample system in place all are sampled and inspected. They are then stored in a variety of temperature-controlled areas depending on their specific needs.
“Each sample is labelled and put aside to be planted out, grown on, and checked at onsite trials ground. We also run a biennial training day for customers where training is given on how to best store bulbs at retailers to ensure optimum quality”
Wyevale Nurseries has implemented a nine-point Plant Health Policy. “We set out operating procedures regarding plant health which consider legal obligations, risk assessment, and documented work practice,” says production manager, Kyle Ross. “We set our standards high, to exceed minimum legal plant health requirements and have adopted the newly created Plant Health Alliance’s Plant Healthy Scheme (PHS).
“The business recognises quarantine and regulated pests and diseases and has appropriate measures in place to handle these using pest risk analysis (PRA), with the performance recorded and monitored by external audits. I have also obtained status as a Registered Plant Health Professional and utilise these credentials to further strengthen the company’s biosecurity policy.”
Frank P Matthews has been supplying high-quality, healthy trees to customers for more than 100 years. Sales director Matthew Thomas tells us how they implement plant health measures on its site: “Where possible, due to customer demand, we will always try to source plants that have been propagated and produced in the UK if we cannot produce them ourselves. We will not deal with any nurseries that operate in high-risk geographical areas.
“We only purchase plant material with plant passports, and if purchasing from outside of the UK, we check that all plants have the required phytosanitary certification, which is applied for, processed, and pre-notified through the Defra PEACH or IPAFFS system. Products are quarantined, and procurement checks and inspections are made by Defra or FPM plant health team before any movement to the rest of the nursery.”
The HTA and GCA work closely with Defra to ensure standards and measures are in place to drive best practices and standards in garden centres.
Antony Snow, instructional designer at the GCA says: “In 2022, we started to produce courses that provide customers with a more organic approach to pest and disease control by promoting good plant husbandry to maintain a plant’s health. As well as being available exclusively to GCA member garden centres, the GROW facility is now also available to HTA members too.”
The Plant Healthy scheme is also a key accreditation held by Hillier, which has 19 garden centres across southern England. Chris Francis, garden centre director at Hillier says: “We recognise the risks posed to UK horticulture from imported plant pests and diseases and are committed to helping define industry standards by adhering to a strict biosecurity policy. This helps us to ensure good practices in our plant purchasing and growing practices with full record keeping and documentation. Our staff are then thoroughly trained to recognise and report pests and diseases, practice high levels of nursery hygiene, and maintain crop inspection and husbandry records.”
Hillier holds the Plant Healthy accreditation at its Andler’s Ash tree nursery with plans to extend this across other sites, as well as the ISO 14001 environment management accreditation, and the Woodland Trust UK and Ireland Sown and Grown (UKISG) trust mark.
“We also comply with all government regulations and legislation, ensuring that plant health remains at the highest standards and the risk of disease is controlled and minimal,” says Francis. “Through trade bodies, consultants, and the ‘plant health portal’, our incredibly knowledgeable team of experts always remains up to date with developments, operating a zero-tolerance policy for notifiable pests, diseases, and weeds on all imported stock.”
Group plant buyer Steve Smith says staff education and plant passports are a key focus for Tong Garden Centre. “All the plants that arrive at Tong have a plant passport and phytosanitary certificates, whether they have been bought at home or imported. Internally, regular checks are carried out on all incoming plant deliveries for pests and diseases.”
David Hall and Simon Hall, business partners at Halls, explain that they buy little but often to sell through stock in a short period and rebuy, with most suppliers getting stock to the store quickly, ensuring they are both healthy and look their best. The growers whom they work with are all long-established, reputable, and experienced in what they do well and with whom we have a great relationship. Halls also offer literature for the newer members of staff at Halls to read over and refer to, so they can aid customers with plant health.
High-risk plants for retailers can include olives, Nerium, and polygala which are now off Notcutts’ shopping list. Colin Dale, category head of plants & gardening, says: “We only buy from suppliers we trust for quality and who can provide plant passports for all the plants we buy. We also select suppliers who use tried and tested young plant growers and this, in conjunction with using the plant passport scheme, ensures we have full traceability throughout the whole plant production process from start to finish.
“We do not buy from areas of countries where there is, or has been, a Xylella outbreak and do not import high-risk plants from anywhere. Halls also offer literature for the newer members of staff at Halls to read over and refer to, so they can aid customers with plant health.
Plant guarantees are offered at most garden retailers including Coolings. Jon Reburn, horticultural manager says: “We offer our customers a seven-year guarantee on all our hardy plants, so it is very much in our interests to only sell the best quality stock. We grow about 60% of what we sell in our nurseries, giving us a high degree of control regarding plant health issues. We are approved for Plant Passport and are proud to put our GB plant passport on our homegrown stock.
“We import root-balled Acers for potting from Holland but use a supplier who has the highest rating of biosecurity from the Dutch plant health authority. We always try and take a proactive approach and work with our local APHA Plant Health Inspectors with the mindset that they are on our side to protect our industry.”
Retailers and growers alike are working hard to ensure pests and diseases do not cross our borders and that the plants they offer to customers are the best quality possible.