Nursery plant owner reveals how his £500,000 business with NI has been wiped out by Irish Sea border

A firm which sold £500,000 of plants to Northern Ireland each year, has revealed how that trade has been wiped out overnight because of the Irish Sea border.

Saturday, 6th February 2021, 6:19 am
Jonathan Whittemore from commercial plant nursery firm, Johnsons Of Whixley, in North Yorkshire

North Yorkshire commercial plant nursery firm Johnsons of Whixley has called for urgent action over the new rules which it says is penalising them from doing business with local customers.

Soil from non-EU states cannot be taken into Northern, which remains within the bloc’s plant health system.

Irish Sea border arrangements mean Northern Ireland must apply EU rules on products entering from Great Britain.

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Plants now need a health certificate to enter but soil, which can carry pests and diseases, is among products that are completely banned.

The firm’s head of production and procurement, Jonathan Whittemore, said: “This legislation penalises UK growers and gives an immediate competitive advantage to EU suppliers who may go on to monopolise supply into an existing part of the UK at the expense of our business and the wider industry.

“The Brexit project was meant to reduce red tape and bureaucracy and was surely not intended to penalise UK Suppliers and active Northern Ireland/UK customers.

“The restriction was designed to protect the wider EU Flora and Fauna, under this scenario there is ‘nil’ risk to the EU from Johnsons traditional supply into Northern Ireland be it from our own production or ironically imports sourced in the EU and supplied into Northern Ireland.”

For years, Johnsons sold as much as £500,000 of plants per annum to customers in Northern Ireland.

However as of January 1, the firm, based at Kirk Hammerton near York, can longer do so because soils from the mainland of the United Kingdom cannot be allowed into the island of Ireland, either in the Republic or Northern Ireland.

The new legislation stops nurseries like Johnsons supplying Rootball, Bare Root and Container plants into the EU and, under the terms of the trade deal thrashed out by the UK and the EU, these rules now apply to Northern Ireland as well.

Plants which originate from a bare root young plant, or those that have had any contact with the soil, even if container grown, are considered by the terms of the trade deal to be a risk due to the likely legacy of soil residue which has the potential to carry pathogens or nematodes.

While it is technically not impossible to remove soil residue, the process is hugely impractical and as such long-standing customers of Johnsons and many other nurseries are left with no choice but to go directly to EU suppliers as there are no restrictions on a legacy soil residue between EU members or affiliates in the guise of Northern Ireland.