After an eighteen month Covid-enforced break, we finally got the chance to attend the long-awaited 75th Saltex show at the NEC organised by the GMA.
Following much trepidation about who and how many people would attend this year’s show, the shackles where off and the show was comfortably busy with over 4000, attending the first day. The second day did not feel as busy, so I would expect the overall attendance figures to be around the usual 8000 to 9000 that we regularly see for our industry shows.
I personally enjoyed being back at the show, meeting face to face again the many dedicated and committed grounds professionals, suppliers and manufacturers who provide the wide range of services and machinery to enable our practitioners to do their job.
There was a nice buzz at the NEC and there was a good balance of educational seminars and activities throughout the day. I, along with two parks’ professionals - Paul Rabbits and Mark Calmly – was asked to participate on one of the panels to talk about the state and value of public parks.
L-R, Mark Camley executive director of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park; Laurence Gale MSc MBPR Green Flag judge; Paul Rabbits, chairman of the Parks Management Association
It is a subject I very much value, especially as I am one of 600 plus Green Flag judges who every year judge about 2100 parks. We talked about how local authorities manged to cope and the issues raised by the pandemic, such as dealing with the extra demand of parks services. We talked about the current state of parks and the lack of funding being made available for ongoing maintenance and, more importantly, how we are going to adapt to combat the many climate change issues and the recruitment of new staff in the coming years.
The Bayer team on display
The general consensus from many of the exhibitors at the show, was a positive one. It seems plenty of those visiting had an agenda and were keen to invest in new products and services.
Toby Clarke of Dennis and SISIS
For me there was a definite shift, with many exhibitors displaying a larger range of battery and robotic products - in fact Dennis and SISIS for example, did not have one single petrol powered machine on their stand. They have developed and introduced a full range of ES series battery powered mowers and even featured a battery powered ES MK5 scarifier.
There was a plethora of robotic mowers and line markers on display including the now popular Turf Tank line marker, the impressive RoviMo, and a wide range of Husqvarna domestic and professional robotic mowers. EGO had a stand that showcased their immense range of battery powered products that included a range of hedge trimmers that I had the pleasure of trying out this year.
However, the most important thing for me was to engage with many of the end users, finding out how they have been coping and what their expectations of the show were. Also I was interested to hear what concerns they may have post-Covid.
It was great to catch up with many turf professionals, including the Wolves grounds staff, Barry from Burnley, Roy Rigby from Manchester City and Ian from Wigan Athletic. All were pleased to be able to meet up again with fellow practitioners and their respective suppliers.
I also had the chance to meet up with some of my fellow RFU pitch advisors. Ted Mitchell, the RFUs national facilities manager, had organised a meeting for us to be introduced to some of the GMA’s recently appointed pitch advisors - namely Ian Somerville and Todd Harrison who will be working with us to deliver the RFU's Rugby Groundsmen Connected programme.
RFU Groundsmen Connected Team
I also held interesting discussions with several grass seed suppliers who were all commenting on the potential shortage of some grass seed and wild flower supplies in the coming months. They were also concerned that prices are going to rise significantly due to a shortage of seed and high demand of these products. This has been caused by some poor harvesting of seed due to the weather and the fact that the HS2 rail project and other high demands for wild flower seed displays had become very popular in recent years. It was also interesting to hear about DLF investing in the amenity seed sales portfolio of Limagrain which will see Matt Gresty and Derek Smith working together to supply a wider range of seed products for their customers.
L-R, Matt Gresty and Derek Smith
About price rises, the cost of fertilisers and plant stimulants are also on the increase, There is no doubt in the coming years due to the recent pandemic, Brexit and high world demands for products, costs will continue to rise.
However, the biggest talking point of the show for me was the problem of recruitment in the industry. Nearly everyone I met had a story to tell of the difficulties in recruiting new staff. Purely on the fact that many of the roles included working weekends and evenings, plus the fact that pay was generally low compared to other industries, people are struggling. Most young people can earn more money driving a white van or stacking shelves it seems.
The other issue is that many of Generation Z (18-22 year olds) are not fully aware of the opportunities and career paths that can be achieved by working in this global and diverse land-based industry.
There is a need for our industry to come together and find a way of nationally promoting these career opportunities. We need to have a national campaign and go and sell our industry to schools, colleges and universities. We don’t just cut grass. We are a highly skilled profession across all sectors of our industry.
At the same time, we need to ensure that these essential skills are rewarded with a decent level of pay. Not many people can live comfortably on less than £24,000 a year.
Joe Hendy, left
I also would like to thank Joe Hendy of AGS who kindly contacted me prior to Saltex, offering me the opportunity to talk about some of the issues we face and my thoughts on working in this diverse and rewarding industry. My podcast interview with Joe can be accessed here.
Thank you Saltex, it was nice to get back. I am now looking forward to the BTME show in Harrogate in January.