Falklands Islands Government is in final negotiations with Tim and Jan Miller, Directors of Stanley Growers Limited and Stanley Nurseries and Garden Centre, to acquire both businesses and the leases of the land on which they sit.
Deputy Director of Commercial Services, Steve Dent, hopes the paperwork will be ready to sign within the next two months or so, and Mr Miller told Falklands Radio he and his wife have done a “formal handshake” with the Chief Executive, but there remain “lots of little ducks to get in a row.”
Mr Miller has been involved in the businesses for well over 30 years, and estimates Stanley Growers accounts for 90% of all the commercially-grown fruit and vegetables for sale in the Islands.
But “we’re not quite as young as we used to be,” he said, and the still-unclear plans for the new port project in the immediate vicinity meant that “basically, our land lease was no longer as secure as we thought it was.”
In the circumstances, the Millers had concluded, there was no realistic prospect “of a normal business-to-business sale.” The only alternative had been to offer it to FIG.
Mr Dent was quick to highlight that “Tim approached the government first: it wasn’t the government railroading him.”
He also stressed “food security is the number one priority,” and Stanley Growers, with its food and landscaping contracts, was a key business in the community.
“Once we understand what that port [project] is going to look like… we can then work out ways of maybe moving those particular paddocks elsewhere.”
FIG ownership, he said, was very much an interim measure: “It’s absolutely not the intention of the government to get into business selling and growing fruit and veg.”
FIG intends to retain as much of the managerial structure – and in particular the Millers’ expertise – as possible, over that period.
“To all intents and purposes,” Mr Miller said, “the public will see no change. Jan and I will still be managing the business; it’s just we will no longer be owning it.”
Asked if, amid cost-of-living problems and global supply-chain difficulties, this wasn’t a time for the government to be looking at having more commercial food-growing acreage, rather than less, Mr Dent said: “There’s lots that we don’t know, right now. We don’t know that we’re even going to have a [port] access road, we don’t really understand the business, and only when we understand all those knowns will we be able to move forward with thinking about things like that.”