Insolvenz Baumschulen (copy)

Focus Financial troubles German nurseries

Baumschule Christoph Marken and Saterplant in dire straits

Text and photo Ron Barendse

German tree growers Baumschule Christoph Marken and Saterplant are in financial trouble. In both cases, missed sales from the Covid crisis and cancelled orders due to the war in Ukraine are the cause. In the coming period, the companies will sit down with its creditors, and the future should become clear. Both companies see sufficient prospects.

German tree nursery BCM Baumschule Christoph Marken has been under the German insolvency scheme since 15 August. Stagnating sales to Eastern Europe are a major reason for the financial problems, according to receiver Christian Kaufmann. He estimates that, due to the war in Ukraine and the consequent lack of orders from Russia, the company lost some 20% of its sales this spring.

Kaufmann says cost increases in pots, packaging materials and transport, among others, have also led to the financial problems. In addition, the company previously lost orders – and thus sales – due to the Covid crisis. Kaufmann says that 2018 and 2019 were good years for the company but that sales declined sharply in 2020 due to the lockdowns of DIY stores, among other reasons. This year, the Ukraine crisis will lead to “a few million euros” in unsold plants.

66 ha container field

BCM Baumschule Christoph Marken is a leading grower of Rhododendron, conifers, shrubs, bamboo and small fruits, among others, with some 66 ha of tree nurseries in Ammerland, Germany. The company buys starting material for several products in the Netherlands. In addition to Russia, it has customers in Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. The company employs 45 permanent staff.

According to Kaufmann, customers and suppliers have responded well to the present situation, and the announcement that the company is insolvent has not led to the termination of relationships. Talks with creditors are scheduled for week 48, and Kaufmann hopes they will go along with the plans on the table. Nevertheless, the receiver says it is inevitable that a large proportion of the millions outstanding with creditors will go unpaid. He says he aims for a high percentage of debts to be paid off but expects this to be around 20% in the end.

If the creditors go along with the receiver, he will draw up a final insolvency plan in January, so that the company’s insolvency status can be lifted next July at the earliest.

Best if company continues

On possible scenarios, Kaufmann said: “I am open to everything, but I believe the best solution is for current owner Christoph Marken to continue the company. For now, we assume the company’s size will remain the same as today. The company is involved in many partnerships, has several lease agreements and owns some business units. These interrelationships make it somewhat harder to sell to a third party. In theory, however, someone else could take over Baumschule Christoph Marken, and several German companies have indeed expressed interest.”

Uwe Marken is the owner of Added Value Support (AVS), a company that markets and packages tree nursery products. This business is not insolvent. Also, Baumschule Christoph Marken rents space to trader Green Contor, a situation which remains unchanged.

Insolvency of Saterplant

On 27 September, North German company Saterplant also declared insolvency. In this case, no receiver has been appointed, but the company has opted for ‘insolvency in self-administration’. This means that its management retains the decision-making power, albeit under an external supervisor.

Owner Jan Schlangen attributes the present dire financial situation of his company, which comprises 50 ha of container cultivation, to two causes: Firstly, during the Covid crisis, the company lost orders due to lockdowns and, secondly, it has been missing out on direct and indirect sales this year due to the war in Ukraine.

In December, Schlangen will sit down with his creditors to reach a solution. They include suppliers – among whom several Dutch suppliers of basic material – the bank and employees.

Production will decrease

Schlangen says that many plants have remained at the company due to unfulfilled orders. Orders for Russia mainly involve Thuja occidentalis ‘Brabant’ and ‘Emerald’ in various sizes. Looking to the future, he says: “My production will decrease substantially. I already started downsizing last year by buying less basic material and thus growing less. This year has been the same, partly because I have sold far fewer plants than planned.”

Slangen says that, since there is less production, he obviously needs less labour, which will save costs. At the same time, less production also gives him the opportunity to review his customer base. “With less production taking place, I want to focus on my best customers and on selecting better quality. I prefer to produce a little less while growing products that sell well. I expect that, eventually, my production will be at around 60-70% of what it was before.”

Looking to the future, he says: “I find that employees, suppliers and customers have confidence in our company. Their reactions have strengthened my belief in a bright future. I trust that my company will emerge from this stronger.”

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