Canada’s growers look to reopening garden centres to salvage dire year

A worker leans on a rack of potted flowers at Sheridan Nurseries in Toronto on May 8, 2020, the first day that garden centres re-opened in Ontario from COVID-19 restrictions. (Photo: Reuters/Chris Helgren)

Ottawa | Reuters — Hard-hit Canadian flower and nursery growers hope a surge in demand from budding gardeners in Ontario, the country’s biggest market, can help the industry avert disaster caused by the coronavirus with retailers reopening on Friday in the populous province.

Most non-essential businesses in Canada were shut in mid-March as officials urged people to stay home, but in recent weeks many of the country’s 10 provinces, with the exception of Ontario, have allowed garden centres and nurseries to operate.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford gave the green light this week to garden centres to open their doors on Friday — two days before Mother’s Day, a key date for plant sales.

Sales in Canada’s greenhouse, sod and nursery sector increased by 2.4 per cent to $4 billion in 2019, with Ontario accounting for 54.9% of total sales, Statistics Canada data shows.

“We usually figure if you don’t have the bulk of your sales done by June 15, it’s been a bad year,” said Jamie Calibers, growers’ manager for the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association.

But from March to Easter in April, flower growers lost 40 per cent of their sales, Andrew Morse, executive director of Flowers Canada Growers, told Reuters. Projected industry losses could be as high as $625 million by June 1.

Though the gardening season varies across the country, the bulk of sales are concentrated in April, May and June.

Kuyvenhoven Greenhouses sold 50 per cent of what they had budgeted to sell at Easter, Andy Kuyvenhoven said, forcing him either to give away flowers or throw them in the trash.

The Kuyvenhoven farm in Brampton has grown about 50,000 square feet of potted flowers such as calla lilies and mums for Mother’s Day.

“Heading into Mother’s Day, our concern is the same: Is the market going to be open enough so that we can sell the product?” Kuyvenhoven said.

At the Peter Knippel Garden Centre in Ottawa, owner Kennedy Johnston said there’s been an “incredible spike” in customer demand because people have taken up gardening while being forced to stay at home during the pandemic.

The garden centre is doing online orders and curbside pickup. “We’re getting a lot of new customers,” Johnston said.

“It’s been a little bit of chaos… but we feel very fortunate to be busy,” he said, adding that demand for edible products, such as vegetable plants and fruit trees, had doubled.

— Kelsey Johnson reports on Canadian economic policy for Reuters from Ottawa.

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