DESPITE being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hillier Nurseries’ amenity tree division is continuing to replenish stocks after a record-breaking winter planting season, with sales currently 31 per cent up on the previous year.

Planting of new tree crops and transplanting of the existing is well under way across Hillier’s 725 acres of open ground production, the company said.

Adam Dunnett, amenity sales director, explained: “We have had to adapt how we work to ensure the production team can remain safe, coronavirus has thrown up lots of challenges for us as it has for every business, but the way in which our teams have risen to the challenge has been remarkable; they have been determined to ensure we have a continuation of stock to supply our customers once we get through this current crisis.”

Hillier intends to plant over 30,000 trees this season. 25,000 under stocks for their own summer budding programme as well as transplanting thousands of trees from 8-10 cm girth up to 110 cm, with semi-mature and super-semi trees Hillier’s real specialism. Along with the field production, Hillier also have a 50-acre container tree nursery, and production reportedly hasn’t slackened there either.

Dunnett continued: “Martin Hillier, senior manager container trees, and his team have so far potted thousands of trees, including over 20,000 45 ltr, a size the local authority market seems to have an insatiable appetite for at the moment!”

COVID-19 had an early impact at Hillier Nurseries as Dunnett pointed out: “Coronavirus hit us at the end of our open ground lifting season, with customers calling off hundreds of trees. They were lifted and awaiting despatch, and then sites started closing, orders got postponed and we were left with tens of thousands of pounds of trees needing a home fast! We contacted every customer and told them we would ensure their trees remained in tip top condition, ready for when their sites reopened. Every tree that had been lifted was transported to the Hillier container tree nursery and each will be containerised.

“Bare root stock has been lost and if the COVID-19 restrictions continue, then our losses will start to mount if we have no market for our summer container trees. However, we know we have not seen the same impact that the bedding and young plant producers are enduring, the anguish those nurseries must be going through is difficult to contemplate,” said Dunnett.

“We can only hope that government implement the Horticultural Trades Association’s plant scrappage scheme, otherwise the ramifications for the industry could be enormous.”    

Although Hillier have seen a significant drop off in orders for immediate supply, the sales team who are all working from home have seen no let-up in enquires and orders for future supply.

Dunnett added: “Most of the customers we are speaking to seem to be of the opinion that the government will want to stimulate the economy post COVID-19 rather than introducing new austerity measures, and if this is the case then business and local authorities want to have projects lined up and ready to go. Generating cash flow & profits for business and tax income for government will never be more important. With the work we are currently putting into our tree production programme at Hillier we will be in a strong place to supply great British grown trees.”

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