A COMMERCIAL nursery operator in North Yorkshire says he is determined ‘to trade our way out of the crisis’.

Graham Richardson, of Johnsons of Whixley, said they had not ‘downed tools’ during the lockdown as their future depended on the plants they were able to grow.

Early signs since the government had permitted garden centres to reopen were positive, he said, with orders coming back. And he expects his business to be back to normal levels by the second half of next year.

The horticultural sector was hit hard as the lockdown came at a crucial time for plant sales. Johnsons, a three-generation family business at Kirk Hammerton, is one of the UK’s primary suppliers of plants, shrubs and trees to independent garden centres and also supplies to other retail chains and outlets.

“The problem is that our business is manufacturing a perishable product which has a limited sales window,” said Graham, group managing director. “We either need to sell it or put money into it to hold it off or consign it to the waste heap. That is always the worst situation.”

He added: “We have been extremely active and interactive in getting stock out. Our supply to online retailers has been quite dynamic.

“All of our projections suggest this will be a significant knock to us but one that we can manage.

“We have still got receipts in for plants before the lockdown came along. The hit will be later, down the line.

“We have sufficient strength in our core business to be able to ride it, and we think that by the time we get into the second part of next year we should be returned to normal.

“We have the attitude of trading our way out of the crisis. Our stock has had to be tended. We couldn’t just down tools. We have to be growing the plants that we will need to recover now.

“Some plants take nine months to bring to market. We had no option.”

He said a team had been able to continue working safely.

“We have about 70 staff working in 150 acres so everyone has a couple of acres to socially distance. We are seeing the 40 per cent trading pattern remaining for a month or two and growing up, and hope by the end of the year we are back on top - 80 to 90 per cent of normal.

“We never stopped. By introducing all the measures from day one and self-auditing on an ongoing basis with external health and safety advisers, it is not a challenge to us to meet the requirements.

“As garden centres lift off, and in particular construction and landscaping, our normal numbers of full-time staff will return to normal over the next month or so. We expect within the next six weeks we will be up to 110 permanent staff.”