Coronavirus: Supply chain shortages leave gardeners waiting for seeds

Online orders for Irish seeds rise dramatically in wake of Covid-19 restrictions

 As public concern grows for the vulnerability of the food chain during the  pandemic, gardeners are discovering the international seed supply chain is not immune to  challenges.   Photograph: Getty Images

As public concern grows for the vulnerability of the food chain during the pandemic, gardeners are discovering the international seed supply chain is not immune to challenges. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Forced to stay home as a result of Covid-19 restrictions and with far more free time on their hands, many people are happily dusting off their spades and starting their own kitchen garden.

History teaches us that in times of war or economic uncertainty – just consider Voltaire’s cautionary words “Il faut cultiver votre jardin” – growing at least some of our own food is a way to empower and insulate ourselves against possible shortages.

Yet as public concern grows for the vulnerability of the food chain during the Covid-19 pandemic, gardeners are discovering the international seed supply chain is not immune to these challenges.

Those problems have been compounded by the closure of garden centres, forcing customers online and resulting in a surge in website orders. Yet well known online suppliers such as Sligo-based Quickcrop, Dublin-based Mr Middleton, Sligo-based Green Vegetable Seed, Leitrim-based Organic Centre and Galway-based Seedaholic are struggling to keep up with demand.

The same kind of extra demand is facing the country’s handful of seed producers, including Cork-based Brown Envelope Seeds and Clare-based Irish Seed Savers. Most have had to intermittently close their online shops as the only effective means of stemming the sudden extra demand and processing the backlog of orders. Those challenges have been aggravated by the Government’s necessarily strict guidelines requiring social distancing, which are slowing down deliveries.

“As soon as we restock and reopen our online shop, the orders instantly start pouring in,” said Andrew Davidson of Quickcrop. “ I’d estimate that they’re up by 400 per cent to 500 per cent in comparison to what we’d typically receive at this time of year.”

Appealing to customers to be patient, to place orders via its website rather than by email or phone and to avoid stockpiling, he says it is doing everything it can to get orders delivered as promptly as possible.

Klaus Laitenberger of Green Vegetable Seeds confirms a similar rise in demand, as does Sue Barnes of Seedaholic and Jennifer McConnell, manager of Irish Seed Savers.

Home seed-saving

Madeline McKeever of Brown Envelope Seeds, whose small, family-run business specialises in producing organic seed of open-pollinated varieties/species of vegetables and herbs suitable for home seed-saving, sees a silver lining to it all.

“I’d like to think that one of the positives of the Covid-19 pandemic is that many more people will want to learn more about how to grow their own food and how to save their own seed.

“We’re facing possible challenges to the security of the food chain in the months ahead so by growing staples [her recommendations include peas, beans, kale, chard, peppers, tomatoes and squash] and home-saving seed [see brownenvelopeseeds.com for a booklet giving great tips on this] we can all make a difference. It’s all about cultivating resilience.”