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Brexit, a year on at Johnsons of Whixley

Launching into 2022, Johnsons of Whixley reflects on the impact Brexit has had on the business so far, and other companies in the horticultural industry too. 

After celebrating its 100th birthday in June 2021, Johnsons has come a long way. Now, the company supplies 5-6 million plants to the commercial sector, garden centres, and landscape affiliated trades each year, and, its estimated to have supplied 230 million plants throughout the UK in its long history.

Discussing the many challenges, trials and tribulations Johnsons of Whixley has gone through, the bureaucratic burden has come at a price with reduced revenue, increased cost and a slower supply chain. Brexit has impacted every element of the business and continues to do so with transport, compliance, incoming goods, accounts, recruitment and even its IT function working hard to mitigate the impact.

Post-Brexit, UK horticulture, which contributes over £24bn to the economy, has become one of the most regulated industries in the UK. Johnsons brought in 462 loads from the EU in 2021 and it cost the company £210,000 more than it did in 2020 due to Brexit-related bureaucracy.

The consequence of the imposition of the requirement for a phytosanitary certificate to accompany every consignment was highlighted well before the UK left the EU. Post-Brexit, Johnsons is dealing with fewer suppliers, and more product is arriving at the business through traders, which is exposing them to an increased biosecurity risk.

One of the opportunities that has come out of exiting the EU is the UK’s ability to control biosecurity and look after the health of our plants with nurseries and garden centres – this, playing a key role in policing what is coming in and from whom.

Jonathan Whittemore, head of production and procurement at Johnsons of Whixley, commented: “Of the costs mentioned above, £150,000 relates to EU plant health – this is money Johnsons is spending in the EU, with EU companies and authorities, on inspections and Phytosanitary certificates. The EU Phytosanitary certificate is a perfect example of the costly bureaucracy that doesn’t achieve its aim.

“Whilst requiring a Phytosanitary certificate to accompany plants coming from the EU, APHA doesn’t give the Phytosanitary certificate any authority. To give but one example, plants due to be collected by Johnsons in Belgium, which were exhibiting symptoms of a suspected disease, were held in Belgium until the plants could be tested. The plants were passed as fit to travel and issued a Phytosanitary certificate. On arrival in the UK, the plants were inspected by UK plant health, seen to be exhibiting symptoms for the suspected disease, but despite having a certificate confirming a negative result and a phytosanitary certificate issued by the Belgium plant health authorities, APHA sent the plants for testing. The plants were quarantined until the negative result came back.

“What is the point of the time taken and the cost borne (by UK businesses) of testing and issuing a Phytosanitary certificate in the EU?”

Jonathan continued: “A robust stance is critical in disease control matters, and UK Horticulture should be pleased that this is the approach APHA is taking. But if we are not going to put any credence on the inspections and testing done in the EU then let’s not ask for it to be done, and let’s not pay for it. It is the single biggest barrier to the industry in terms of both timescale and cost, and as already stated, this is money being spent in the EU, not the UK – this is a double hit – expense to UK businesses that could be reinvested in production to help the UK meet its environmental goals, and less money coming into UK authorities that could be spent on things like the NHS.

“We should continue with the inspections and testing by APHA in the UK but instead of insisting on the issuing of a phytosanitary certificate in the EU, recognising the EU processes and Plant Passporting regimes, the same ones we ourselves were part of in 2020, would be a massive move in terms of mitigating UK businesses’ exposure to cost. The cash freed up would allow a focus on investing in our businesses and helping to achieve the Government’s aims of a stronger, more UK- sufficient horticultural supply chain.”

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