Who gives a flying flower?
We care about food miles and buying Australian-grown fresh produce, so why don’t we care more about buying Australian-grown flowers? By supporting our local producers we get fresher flowers, support the local economy and avoid some serious environmental issues.
“People don’t realise how many flowers are imported,” says Shane Holborn, head of the Flower Association of Queensland. “Huge numbers of roses are brought in from African countries like Kenya, or from Colombia and Ecuador in South America.”
The most recent statistics show that more than 120 million flowers were imported in 2012, nearly 80 million of them roses. That’s a tenfold increase since 2008 and it is expected to be even higher now. Other big imports are orchids, chrysanthemums, carnations and fresh foliage.
The ethics bear thinking about. “It really is crazy that it’s financially viable to fly a rose 13,500km from Ecuador to sell in a Sydney supermarket when we can grow almost every flower in Australia,” Holborn says. Apart from concerns about workers’ wages and conditions in exporting countries, most do not have the strict environmental regulations Australia enforces.
“Australian producers are required to use chemicals that are not only registered but the application of those chemicals needs to be conducted safely — for the chemical applicator, other farm workers and the environment,” Holborn says. It can take anything from several days to a more than a week for imported blooms to reach the shops from the farm, but new post-harvest treatments can enable blooms to be sold, still looking fresh, up to two weeks after they have been picked.
Imported flowers also need chemical treatments to
comply with our strict quarantine regulations. Methyl bromide, banned for flower growers here, is still used in Australian quarantine treatments to kill pathogens.
Another compulsory practice, devitalisation, involves dipping flower stems up to their blooms in the weedkiller glyphosate so they cannot be propagated here.
Genevieve McCaskill of Flowers Victoria also supports local growers and country-of-origin labelling. “Local should be the flowers of choice,” she says. “Consumers need to ask questions when they purchase, and so do florists when buying at the wholesalers.”
Small, family-based growers are declining as urban sprawl meets formerly rural flower farms. Land prices offered by developers are irresistible, especially when the family’s next generation wants a less physical life.
Despite this, the outlook for locally grown flowers is positive. A resurgence of more traditional blooms such as hydrangeas, dahlias, snapdragons and sunflowers is good news for local growers, as these varieties do not travel well and therefore don’t have to compete against imports. Smart growers also are looking at supplying early season blooms or unusual varieties that command higher prices. The cut-flower market itself is buoyant overall.
Australia’s new country-of-origin labelling system for fresh produce begins on July 1, but it will not include fresh flowers, despite the best efforts of the Australian Flower Council. Its next alternative has been successful negotiation to add the Australian-made logo to Australian-grown flowers. We should all be looking out for it.
And perhaps we should also adopt the succinct British campaign slogan: “Local grown, not flown.”
It really is crazy it’s financially viable to fly a rose 13,500km from Ecuador to sell in a Sydney supermarket
Buyers at the Melbourne Flower Market, above; Queensland flower grower Lodi Pameijer, right, harvesting kangaroo paws