“The UK is all about plants”
ICL’s Technical Managers Around The World Andrew Wilson
When it comes to keeping plants and turfgrass in peak condition, ICL has the best specialist teams all over the world. Although ICL is a global player, we firmly believe in a local approach. Different countries have their own climate, their own challenges and therefore need different solutions. That is where the expertise of ICL’s Technical Managers over the world comes into play. We asked them about their backgrounds, motivations and specific challenges in their market.
“I would say I work with plants and people. The plants are easy, the people are more complex,” Andrew Wilson laughs when asked to describe his work. Wilson works as a Technical Manager for ICL Professional Horticulture in the UK and Ireland. “I visit growers, give practical advice and growing solutions based on their nursery set-up and their expectations. I like to help growers to understand the key issues and give tips on how to minimize nutrition problems and get the best quality plants.”
All about plants
There’s no place Andrew would rather be when it comes to plants. “The UK is all about plants,” he says. “People have been passionate about plants for centuries. We have amazing historic gardens and consumers look for a wide range of plants. Think of a cottage garden with a whole mixture of shrubs, perennials and bulbs. I go to Holland a lot and nurseries grow big batches of a single plant. In the UK, our nurseries grow lots of different varieties.”
Passionate about plants
In his own words, Andrew has always been passionate about plants. “Since I was about five years old I was always growing plants. When I was at school I knew what I wanted to do. Initially I wanted to sweep the streets with a dust cart, after that it has been plants. Whenever I go to a birthday party, it’s like being a doctor – everybody’s got a plant that is not healthy or they don’t know how to feed.”
Andrew is still fascinated by plants. “Plants are underrated. Plants are far cleverer than animals. They can synthesize everything they need from the sunlight far more efficiently than a man-made solar panel. They can take up their own nutrition. No one on earth can survive without plants, in the future they will become more and more important.”
When asked about the biggest current challenges in the UK and Ireland, Andrew points out two developments in particular, the first being extreme weather conditions due to climate change. “We used to get much colder winters back in the 1980’s,” he says. “If you didn’t bring nursery stock plants inside, you would lose lots over the winter with -10 frosts. We get fewer and fewer frosts now. The climate is very wet in winter. We’re getting more extreme rainfall events in winter and less rain in summers, which get drier and hotter. There is more stress on plants and nutrition is an issue.”
On the other hand, the changing climate makes it possible to grow different plants. “Our climate is moving south, towards the climate you would expect in France,” says Andrew. “That’s why we’re now growing champagne grapes in the South of England. Some French producers are moving here, because their climate is becoming more extreme and ours is more suited for grapes.
An even bigger challenge for Andrew’s current work is the transition to sustainable growing media. “The UK is going peat-free,” he says. As a result, there’s a move towards peat-free alternatives like coir, woodfibre and green compost. He highlights ICL’s woodfibre product ICL developed to replace peat – Fibagro. “We use sustainable wood chips from FSC-certified forests in the Dumfries & Galloway area in South West Scotland. It’s very close to our factory that produces the growing media – so that’s quite sustainable as well. We can replace a significant amount of peat with Fibagro.”
Giving growers advice on peat-free media is now a major part of Andrew’s job. Luckily, he’s not alone. “We have quite an extensive team in the UK and Ireland with 10 technical area sales managers on the ground visiting local growers. I cover the whole of the UK and Ireland and tend to deal more with the larger growers. I spend a lot of time giving presentations to growers online and overseeing practical trials to demonstrate and look at new ideas. In my view, you’ve got to have the product, you’ve got to have the delivery, you’ve got to have the customer service and you’ve got to have the relationship with the grower. That’s what it’s about.”