The Wacky World of Wildflower Seeds

It’s difficult making money out of wildflower seeds if you produce them properly. It’s risky, highly seasonal and difficult, and people don’t pay enough for seed as they don’t for plants; they can buy imports much cheaper. Much of the seed in wildflower seed packets is European (and sold sale or return), like most of the “native” hedging sold in the UK. People are now terribly confused about what a “wildflower” is; I know a lovely meadow full of North American wildflowers. Lovely, but not what I’m after, which are the sort of flowers you might find in a a traditional hay meadow, for example, supporting an attractive British ecosystem.
No-one seems to know how big the market for British wildflower seed in the UK is; Kew recently commissioned a piece of market research which came up with a resounding blank. I think there are maybe only 5 proper producers here, and lots of smaller folk who harvest meadows and sell that seed as a direct harvested mix. The industry doesn’t produce much wildflower seed in total, particularly in a year as bad as this. To give you an idea, I’ve been wrestling with a shortage of Yellow Rattle. Rattle is an interesting plant and an interesting indicator of how big the market is. It’s almost an essential for meadow creation, for reasons I’ve talked about before. If you were to sow it in an existing sward you’d do so at something like 0.5g per square metre, or 2kg per acre. I reckon there were only about 400kg harvested in the UK this year, enough for 200 acres. Nationwide.
Does this matter?
The problems with imported seed are twofold. As I’ve already mentioned, it means that people get confused between wildflowers and British wildflowers, regardless of where they’re produced. The “British” species that are sold might also be quite different from the flowers we have. Local populations of plants in the wild here look very different, let alone plants grown from Serbia, for example. It seems worthwhile trying to preserve local variation in our flora which leads to ecologists sometimes specifying locally harvested seed or green hay. This isn’t very helpful from the point of view of UK seed producers, ironically.

The folk that are out there making a modest living out of producing wildflower seed properly need to get these messages across to their retail and business customers:
1. Our seeds are high quality (test them like we do, and advertise the fact).
2. When you buy our seeds you get what it says on the packet.
3. There are good reasons to buy native British wildflowers…
4. …harvested in the UK.
5. You will need to pay us properly to produce them.
They also need to find ways of making their businesses more profitable. How you cope with being frantic for only three months a year I’m not sure. Harvesting and processing seed is difficult too; you need expensive kit with low utilization rates. Selling directly to small retail customers is probably not the way to go as it’s so time consuming. Rather than spending hours on the phone talking to consumers who need assurance or advice, perhaps use how to videos and online guides. Improve and expand your relationships with selected – not all – resellers (like us!).

Interesting challenges.