NI gardeners lose hundreds of seed varieties as major company Suttons withdraws fruit and veg seeds due to Irish Sea border

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Seed to grow onions, carrots, cabbage and a host of other common vegetables will no longer be sent to Northern Ireland by one of the UK’s major seed manufacturers because of the Irish Sea border.

Suttons Seeds, whose rows of seed packets have been familiar in many garden centres across Northern Irelandfor decades, circulated a list to garden centres in Northern Ireland yesterday morning in which it made clear the extend of its withdrawal from the Northern Ireland market.

The Devon firm, which has held a Royal warrant since the time of Queen Victoria, did not respond to a request for comment from the News Letter and it is not entirely clear which part of the Irish Sea bureaucracy has led to its decision.

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The company does not appear to have withdrawn any of its flower seeds from sale at this point.

Gardeners are finding it increasingly difficult to get something as basic as vegetable seed as more and more GB companies pull out of the NI marketGardeners are finding it increasingly difficult to get something as basic as vegetable seed as more and more GB companies pull out of the NI market
Gardeners are finding it increasingly difficult to get something as basic as vegetable seed as more and more GB companies pull out of the NI market

The development is the latest piece of bad news for local gardeners who not only see many long-established GB seed companies pulling out of the Northern Ireland market, but now face the impossibility of buying bare root plants or potted plants from GB if they contain even a few particles of British soil.

However, in a perverse incentive to damage the environment, the GB-NI trade in plants can continue if those plants are potted in pure peat.

There are more than 40 vegetables and fruits named on the list circulated to garden centres yesterday, including celeriac, celery, asparagus, leek, beetroot, cauliflower, sweet corn, broad bean, spinach, radish,pea, runner bean, French bean, parsley, tomato, lettuce, carrot, marrow, courgette, gourd, cucumber, gherkin, melon, chicory, endive, cabbage, turnip, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, calabrese, sprouting broccoli, and chard.

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However, a common seed display would have more than 20 varieties of some of the most popular vegetables such as tomatoes and lettuce, meaning that hundreds of seed varieties will be withdrawn.

Robin Mercer, the owner of Hillmount nursery – one of Northern Ireland’s largest and longest-established garden centres – spoke out at the weekend to warn that it is “on the brink of collapse” in large part because of the new border rules.

He highlighted how a significant proportion of the public has turned to gardening since the start of the pandemic and how it has improved many people’s mental health in what has been a bleak year.

Yesterday DUP agriculture minister Edwin Poots repeated his demand for “action on the issues facing the horticulture sector as a result of the Northern Ireland Protocol”.

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Mr Poots, who had previously written to his counterparts in London and Dublin, said that he had also raised the issue during this week’s Inter-Ministerial Group with ministers from England, Scotland and Wales.

Mr Poots said in a statement: “The importance of allowing trade to continue is absolutely vital to the agriculture and horticulture sector’s viability and associated economic activity. This is an urgent issue and will have significant impacts on important NI and RoI trade.”


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