Spain’s ornamental horticulture sector sounds alarm over COVID-19
FEPEX warns that devastating virus could lead to a wave of bankruptcies

Author: Ron van der Ploeg

MADRID, Spain: Spain’s ornamental horticulture industry, relying mostly on exports for a substantial share of revenue, fears the future as the outbreak of the coronavirus dampens demand for flowers and plants at home and abroad.

Already challenged by climate change, labour issues, both in availability and rising costs, fierce global competition and sustainability, Spain’s ornamental industry faces an uncertain future due to COVID-19.

Sector body FEPEX is extremely worried about Spain’s ornamental sector as a whole and warns that unless the industry obtains state and EU support to survive the coronavirus crisis,  a wave of bankruptcies engulfing plant nurseries and garden centres.

As such, FEPEX has asked the country’s Ministry of Agriculture for measures to support the floriculture industry, including a request to the EU for a postponement of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)’s administration procedures to relieve growers stricken by the COVID-19 emergency and bailout by the Spain’s financial agency Instito de Crédito Official  (ICO).

FEPEX notes that the outbreak of the pandemic comes at a business-critical time of the year, which is usually peak season for flower and plant sales because of traditional festivals (Fallas in the autonomous region of Valencia, a combined celebration of Saint-Joseph and Father’s Day on 19 March) and Easter.

According to the Secretary General of FEPEX, Mr Jose Maria Zalbidea, the floriculture sector is the sole agricultural sector the Common Agricultural Policy does not financially support, adding that the situation is critical as almost all cut flowers and ornamental plants growers and garden centres have lost their entire spring sales. The only hope that they can cling to is financial aid to pay their bills and keep their business afloat over the next few months.

FEPEX also urges the government the cut flower and nursery stock sector is given access to contractual lay-off and short-time working provisions due to force majeure as written down in the country’s Royal Decree 8/2020. Additionally, the trade association asks the floriculture industry be able to claim on their agricultural insurance to compensate for their loss of sales.

One of the problems the sector is facing is that an increasing number of Moroccan workers returned home from Spain, while those seasonal workers ready to help Spanish farmers with harvesting their crops have not been able to enter Spain due to the closure of Spanish borders for the transit of people.

The closure of  street food markets and flower shops means that, according to a sector representative, around 50-60 per cent of sales is lost. “Upon harvesting we take the flowers to the supermarkets, to give them away to shoppers, so that at least someone can have some joy in such sad times”, a grower from Extremadura says (Source: Dutch Ministry of Agriculture).

Spain’s ornamental horticulture industry represents 3.2% of the country’s final plant production and occupies a production area of approximately 4,500 ha, with a production value of  more than 1,000 million euros. Among the country’s major flower producing areas are Andalusia, Valencia, Catalonia, the Canary Islands, Galicia, Aragon and Murcia.

The sector supports a total of 40,000 jobs concentrated in areas where dependence on this sector is very high.

  • Launched in 1962, the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP) is a partnership between agriculture and society, and between Europe and its farmers. It aims to support farmers and improve agricultural productivity, ensuring a stable supply of affordable food; safeguard European Union farmers to make a reasonable living; help tackle climate change and the sustainable management of natural resources; maintain rural areas and landscapes across the EU and keep the rural economy alive by promoting jobs in farming, agri-foods industries and associated sectors.

The CAP is a common policy for all EU countries. It is managed and funded at European level from the resources of the EU’s budget.

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