Who gives a fly­ing flower?

The Weekend Australian - Life - - GARDENING - HELEN YOUNG

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

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