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Floriculture in Australia’s Northern Territory is shrinking

  • Floriculture in Australia’s Northern Territory is shrinking

    by Market Insider

    Monday, 10 Nov. 2014

    They are some of the most beautiful flowers you will ever see but if freight costs don't fall it's unlikely you'll see too many tropical orchids, heliconias, or gingers outside the Northern Territory. It’s just one problem crippling the cut flower industry in the Northern Territory (NT).

    Despite 30 years of government research and development support, the industry is suffering under high transport costs, fuel tariffs, and a lack of skilled workers.

    As these pressures have caused grower numbers to dwindle in the past five years, so has industry co-operation begun to break down.

    An industry report, released by ACIAR lately, outlines the need for drastic changes to keep the NT industry alive, and looks at the potential for cut flower growing in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Pacific.

    Researcher Julian Gorman from Charles Darwin University says the NT industry made a strong beginning in the 1980’s, but the last few years have become difficult.

    'To begin with, there was a lot of time and energy put into getting people interested in it. Then all the freight expenses started to kick in, the lack of trained people, and it was hard to be competitive in anything but a niche market. So the focus narrowed, and many growers left', he said.

    The report spent four years looking at ways to progress floriculture in the Northern Territory.  The idea was to use these lessons to improve livelihoods in Indigenous Australian and Pacific Island communities. But so far, Julian Gorman says the uptake amongst those communities has been scarce.

    'Wildflowers have been identified as a good enterprise for Indigenous groups. But taking a western business framework, there are a lot of stages that Aboriginal groups don't have experience with'.

    Cut flower grower in Berry Springs, Wendy McWaters, almost lost her business after one of the big supermarkets made a sudden decision to stop buying her gerberas. They’ve now diversified, supplying heliconias and gingers to several markets.
    "We decided not to continue with gerberas, we couldn't get them into the southern states for the prices, and the florists were only taking 20 to 30 flowers, twice a week. We nearly fell over, business wise. So we worked to get what we said, four legs on a table. So if one leg falls, we've still got three to keep us going.'

    She says she's seen the industry shrink as the challenges take their toll on growers.

    'We’ve seen lots of growers leave the industry because they're not getting enough money. We haven't had a rise in the cost of flowers, we've had a decrease in the prices. And the cost of freight is now at the point where it’s more than the cost of the actual flowers,' she says.

    The one thing keeping them afloat is their heliconias. The plant, which is related to the banana, currently can’t be imported from overseas.  'If those floodgates open, the industry will be finished,' Ms McWaters says.

    Source: abc.net.au

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