Contact 2011 delegates encouraged to grasp the opportunities ahead

Conference Chairman, Matt Mott of Boningale Nurseries, comments, “It was a privilege to be able to chair an exceptional Contact conference. I’m convinced that no-one left without having a heap of ideas to take back to the nursery.”

The conference began with Doug Reade from Wyevale Nurseries taking a philosophical look at how the industry has changed over the past 27 years. He encouraged delegates to learn from others and take a few chances along the way – ‘the future is about making opportunities.’HTA Market Information Manager David Denny outlined some of the opportunities that lie ahead for the industry with an increasing number of people interested in gardening and the growth in school gardening projects which is helping to drive footfall.Delegates were encouraged to embrace social media and really think about what makes their company unique, special and different by Neville Stein. The Sun’s gardening correspondent Steve Bradley urged companies to maximise the opportunities available for publicity through working with traditional media channels – papers, radio and one particular area of growth – the shopping channels.Scotsdale Garden Centre’s Jonathan Savage spoke about how it is no longer enough to have excellent customer service it needs to be legendary. With an increasing interest in people buying local products Geoff Caesar spoke about the local marketing campaign that Bransford Webbs Plant Company are running which allows garden centres within an hour’s drive of the nursery to display locally grown logos. Local providence was a key topic picked up by David Milner, CEO of Tyrells Potato Chips, who only use potatoes grown within a 40km radius of their farm.Looking at labour saving efficiencies Chris Bowman from John Woods Nurseries spoke about how their production process had been revolutionised with the use of a new potting machine and dispatch system. This was reinforced by Ian Thornhill of Hortec and Mike Berry of Mechanical Botanical.Jason Pole from HDC spoke about the current research being undertaken within the hardy nursery stock sector and how in the future there needs to be more collaboration with other sectors to make levy funds stretch further. This theme was built upon by John Adlam who encouraged growers to make the most from their levy as he is ‘yet to see a nursery that has not benefitted (and profited) from the results of HDC research’. He detailed some of the current research projects including the development of a computer prediction model for powdery mildew and a study of a fungus that works against vine weevil.The environment was another key topic on the Contact agenda. Susie Holmes provided an overview of peat and the development of peat-reduced and peat free product trials and David Talbot from ADAS spoke about the current situation with regard to implementation of the EU Sustainable Use Directive and the impact on pesticide availability and use.Charles Carr from Lowaters Nursery demonstrated how they have really put the environment at the heart of their business by implementing an Environmental Management System and achieving BS 8555 and ISO 14001. As part of this they have been reducing and recycling waste, reducing reliance on pesticides, reducing oil and electricity consumption and installing a rainwater harvesting system. He comments, “We have the opportunity as an industry to be ahead of the game in focussing on the environment.”Kate Wickes-Bull co-founder of The Peoples Supermarket provided an enlightening account of how they have created a community supermarket that highlights the possibilities of consumer power. With buying British one of their key values they are perhaps one of the only supermarkets that employs a chef enabling to convert any vegetable waste into ready meals and soups.As part of the event delegates visited Hawkesmill Nurseries near Kenilworth and the Hozelock plant in Birmingham. Hawkesmill MD Richard Evans provided an overview of their operation and outlined plans for a dispatch building currently under development. At Hozelock the group received a guided tour of the manufacturing and distribution plant during a busy shift. It is fair to say that delegates were amazed by the scale of the operation and to find out that 75% of Hozelock products are manufactured here in the UK.Plantsman and broadcaster Roy Lancaster made a welcome return to Contact as the after dinner speaker on the first night, sharing with the audience his sheer passion for plants. Roy inspired delegates by providing a fascinating tour of the ‘living library’ of plants from around the world that make up his garden in Hampshire.Further topics covered at the conference include plants and planting (James Alexander-Sinclair), green trends (Alistair Lorimer), the future for retail sales of plants (Carol Paris), training for growers (Camilla Strawbridge), recruitment and getting the right people for your business (Guy Moreton) and retaining and developing the staff you already have (Roger Phillips).