The potentially catastrophic consequences for the UK’s horticultural industry of an outbreak of the bacterial plant disease Xylella fastidiosa (Xf) were spelled out in a stark warning to growers and retailers at last week’s HTA Futures Conference.
During a panel debate, Hillview Garden Centres CEO Boyd Douglas-Davies (right) described it as the most serious situation he had come across in his 32 years in the industry. It was a wake-up call that had resulted in his businesses starting to take plant health more seriously.
The disease has already devastated horticulture in southern Italy and has spread to Corsica, southern France and Spain. There is no known control and severely affected plants can die within three years. Thousands of plants on those regions have already been destroyed.
In the event of an outbreak in the UK, an exclusion zone of 10km would be imposed for five years. It has been likened to “foot and mouth” in horticulture, affecting growers, retailers and consumers alike.
Dan Munro (second left) from the UK’s Animal and Plant Healthy Agency said the disease was sure to spread and spread, with new cold-hardy strains posing a threat to the UK should it reach our shores. It could even be brought on the boot of a holidaymaker.
Douglas-Davies urged the industry not to wait for official action or it could be too late. “We have to act now as individual companies and be far ahead of the industry as a whole, which can only keep up with the slowest member. There is no time to wait for official bodies to do their bit,” he said.
The HTA’s Raoul Curtis-Machin (left) said businesses should take extra care in sourcing their plants and urged British growers to start growing more of their own material to ensure bio-security. He suggested the HTA could support calls for some kind of official compensation scheme for businesses caught up in an outbreak.