First came Columbian Roses...
When I first started in floristry over a decade ago, the only flowers that were generally imported were orchids. Then came Columbian roses. With their large heads and beautiful colour range, they were magnificent. Local growers were inspired. Many roses growers improved production techniques and varieties to meet the competition head on. Their main advantage was the gruelling transport process and quarantine that the imports were subjected to. Quarantine insisted that the roses were devitalised, preventing propagation from the roses and the spread of cut flower disease into Australia. This usually involved dipping the flower stems into glysophate (Roundup) for 20 minutes, up to within 5cm of the flower head. Imports suffer from this process, and often display wilted foliage even when the flower head looks healthy. Both the transport process and the quarantine procedure reduce the vase life of the flower, giving locally grown imports an edge. The imports remained expensive in the beginning.
Then Imports Came in From India, Africa, China, Pakistan etc...
Soon other imported roses started entering the market. And, as the Australian dollar went up, they became more and more price competitive. Many of these roses came in at the cheap end of the market.
Roses Get a Bad Reputation..
And with the flooding of the market with cheap imports, supermarkets were able to offer cheap rose bunches starting from around $10. But these lower quality imports didn't last. Although the roses look good when first unpacked, they die quickly and vase life for some reduced to 1 to 2 days. This has done the cut flower industry no end of harm as expectations of vase life fall, so do the prices people want to pay. A fresh local rose should have no trouble lasting a week but their reputations are tarnished by these imports that only last 24 hours. Too many people have bought a nice bunch of cheap flowers from the supermarket only to have them keel over the next day.
Other Imports Come Into Australia..
In the past 2-3 years, a broader range of imports have become available. Carnations, chrysanthemum, babies breath, and even Australian natives have hit the market floor. Australian growers have been disadvantaged by the high Australian dollar and margins have been squeezed as they have had to compete. Some flower lines have yet to face competition. Typically these are flowers that do not transport well out of water. But you can guarantee that somewhere overseas there is a flower grower working out how to improve transport outcomes and rehydration techniques.
Growers Face Other Cost Pressures..
Electricity prices, heating costs, labour costs, water charges are all spiralling upwards. Growers are working harder than ever to earn their bit. Urban sprawl is tempting many long time growers to sell up and retire. New entrants are faced with multimillion dollar set up costs for high end climate controlled production, or enter at the mercy of the weather with variable (and usually lower) quality outcomes.
So.. as two of our long time flower suppliers contemplate retirement and giving into the land developers who want to slice and dice their land up for urban sprawl, we are seeking enthusiastic, hard working, dedicated entrepreneurial types who may consider entering into the cut flower industry. Ideally, as with our current suppliers, they will be second or third generation flower growers with a large family willing to provide financial and physical support to the flower farm. They must be prepared to earn less on an hourly rate than their employees. They must be willing to attend the flower markets 2-3 times a week from 1am to 9am and then go home and work the farm, every week of the year. They must have $2-3 million available to invest in infrastructure - 4 acres of fertile land not too far from the markets, 6-8 tunnelhouses with heating, cooling and watering systems, etc etc. I hope there are some contenders out there because I really do not want to buy imports!!