SCOTTISH plant nurseries are throwing away stock and fear wipe-out as coronavirus cuts off trade during a key growing season.

There are just weeks of peak season left for the horticulture sector, which should be experiencing a boom as gardeners seek new plants to restock their outdoor spaces.

Around 70% of bedding plant sales happen between March and the end of May.

But Covid-19 restrictions are forcing Scotland’s £50 million commercial grower industry to dump stock, and bosses fear the sector may not recover.

Sales dwindled around the Mother’s Day weekend – a period when demand is typically high, but which this year saw people beginning to self-isolate.

Lockdown protocols mean there are unlikely to be any sales through to the May bank holiday, meaning what is normally the busiest trading period of the year will not yield the profits needed in 2020.

It’s thought that as much as £200m of seasonal plants will have to be scrapped across the UK ornamental horticulture grower industry – a stock write-off unlike that seen in any other trade.

The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) believes the value of lost plant sales in the UK will hit almost £690m by the end of June and could reach £1.2 billion by the end of the year if the situation continues.

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According to the HTA, investment in stock means many ornamental plant nurseries do not have the reserves to take on a government loan, and EU state aid rules mean many such firms fall outwith the scope of support schemes.

It estimates that at least one-third of UK ornamental producers may fail in a matter of weeks, leading to a loss of around £250m in direct GDP contribution to the UK economy annually. If this happens, the association says biosecurity could be compromised due to future demand for overseas-grown plants.

Chairman James Barnes said: “Stock is one of the biggest components of asset value in the sector – stock write-offs will destroy the balance sheets of many and make it impossible for them to continue.

“We are calling for the Government to work with the HTA as the industry’s representative body to come up with a financial support scheme to help those businesses which have had to scrap perishable stock and are facing a huge financial crisis.

“For those that can stay in business, there are also significant longer-term issues. Growers may not have time to plant next year’s crop, leading to a two-year supply hit on the whole industry including retail, which will severely impact the availability of British-grown seasonal plants and flowers.”

Andrew McGowan, of Barrhead-based McLaren’s Nurseries, said: “We have already had to bin half of our bedding plant stock and been forced to pay off 19 members of staff. At this point, we have just five employees attempting to keep on top of our 50-acre plot.

“We are seeking additional funding from the bank, however – despite it frequently courting our business in the past – we do not seem to be able to secure additional funding from it now. The Scottish horticulture industry may seem small, but it has a huge beneficial impact on local communities and is a major seasonal employer. We are very close to having to close the doors and assistance is needed urgently.”

Andrew Scott, of Carluke’s Reynard Nursery, said: “I anticipate worst case scenario – £400k for my nursery and probably the same for my sister’s nursery. This could wipe us all out.”