Orchid nurseries to move to land set aside for growing Singapore's iconic blooms

A worker prepares orchids for propagation in one of NParks Pasir Panjang nursery’s shade houses.
A worker prepares orchids for propagation in one of NParks Pasir Panjang nursery’s shade houses.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Orchid nurseries now dispersed in various locations will have to move to designated areas in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah, on land being set aside for the first time to growing the blooms so closely identified with Singapore.

In the effort to promote more efficient use of land, said NParks, more than 20ha of land have been allocated to orchid nurseries, about half the 40ha being occupied currently by growers.

NParks, which took over the management of orchid nurseries from AVA on Jan 1, disclosed the move yesterday in a briefing to orchid nursery operators.

"As land in Singapore is scarce, land use requirements are periodically reviewed. In this context, when tenancies and leases of existing nursery operators end, they may not receive extensions," said Mr Sim Cheng Hai, group director at NParks, in a statement to The Straits Times on Wednesday. "The land is required by the state for other planned uses. To address this, NParks has worked with agencies to inform operators as early as possible so that they may make plans."

The agency, which oversees all plant nurseries, said it was looking into allocating more land to meet the needs of the orchid industry beyond the initial 20ha.

The change means that nurseries operating outside the designated areas will have to shut when their current leases end and they fail in their bids to acquire a plot when the land is released from June. Nurseries currently operating in the designated areas will also have to rebid for their plots when their leases are up.

Singapore has some 20 orchid nurseries, and the value of exports was about $11.7 million in 2016, according to the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database.

Though the allocated land is dwarfed by that now taken up by nurseries, Mr Sim said NParks "will continue to work with the orchid nurseries and explore ways to transform their operations, so as to enhance productivity and be more efficient in land use."

While acknowledging the move would safeguard land use for orchid growing, some growers said it might be too expensive for them to relocate their businesses.

Mrs Teo Cai Ying, 41, a co-owner of family business Woon Leng Nursery, estimated the cost of moving from their current premises in Jalan Lekar at about $3 million.

She said: "Our greenhouses currently occupy about 3,000sqm which were built over many years. We cannot afford to rebuild everything."

She said the nursery will appeal to extend the lease when it ends in end-2019. Should it be unsuccessful, they will choose to terminate the business.

Her concerns were shared by Mr Jack Lim, director of Yik Zhuan Orchid Garden in Lim Chu Kang. The lease for the current premises ends in 2021.

"To dismantle the greenhouses, transport them to the new location and set everything up from scratch will be very costly," he said, adding that the orchids may also be affected by the move.

He plans to wait for more details before he decides whether to bid for the designated plots next year. "Maybe there will be changes. Our hope is that we won't have to move."

NParks said land parcels will be available in two tenancy models. One-hectare plots will be available with a renewal every three years, while two-hectare plots will be available with a renewal every 10 years.

It said the three-year tenancy model would benefit nurseries which prefer paying monthly rental fees rather than an upfront land premium, while the 10-year tenancy model would require an upfront payment of the land premium and is intended to benefit nurseries which plan to invest substantially in their operations.

The plots "will come with some basic infrastructure built up to the front gate," said NParks, adding that the move will enable "nurseries t quickly move in, kick-start operations, and defray upfront capital investments."

The first four orchid nursery plots will be released for tender progressively from June, in two tranches.

Operations manager of Wee Lee Nursery Sam Goh, 45, feels that despite the high costs involved, the move may help to give the industry a boost.

"If all the orchid nurseries are concentrated in a certain area, it may attract more tourists to come and buy orchids from us," he said.