Petal to the metal

Highfields' Own - - Feature - BY DAR­REN BUR­TON

EN­TER­ING THE FAST-PACED WORLD OF THE HIGH­FIELDS FLOWER IN­DUS­TRY

VALENTINE’S Day is al­most upon us – that mag­i­cal time of in­tox­i­cat­ing ro­mance, deca­dent choco­lates and spec­tac­u­larly colour­ful bou­quets.

So, as you gaze at that in­cred­i­ble flo­ral ar­range­ment sit­ting on your desk or de­liv­ered to your door, spare a thought for the lo­cal peo­ple who have worked tire­lessly be­hind the scenes to make it hap­pen.

Let me in­tro­duce a cou­ple of them – the dy­namic duo of Flo­randa Flow­ers, di­rec­tor Steve Ran­dall and co-di­rec­tor Ni­cole Men­gel.

Back in 1981, Steve’s fam­ily’s flower farm in Evan’s Road, Cabar­lah was a small, bur­geon­ing busi­ness.

To­day, with 18,000sqm of green­houses, state-of-the-art hy­dro­pon­ics and his own trans­port fleet – the once cot­tage en­ter­prise is now a high-tech, in­dus­try leader.

“I’m pretty sure we’re the biggest ger­bera farm in Queens­land and we em­ploy 18 staff all from the lo­cal com­mu­nity,” Steve says.

It makes for a high-paced en­vi­ron­ment where Ni­cole ex­cels.

Bring­ing a wealth of mar­ket­ing, ad­ver­tis­ing and sales ex­pe­ri­ence, Ni­cole co-or­di­nates the de­mand­ing day-to-day op­er­a­tion of ship­ping or­ders around the coun­try and meet­ing cus­tomer ex­pec­ta­tion.

And, just like their ever-pop­u­lar ger­beras and baby’s breath, Steve and Ni­cole are prov­ing the per­fect part­ner­ship as they share a strong com­mit­ment to the en­vi­ron­ment.

“We’ve re­duced wa­ter con­sump­tion by 87%, fer­tiliser us­age by 40% and slashed heat­ing and spray­ing as well,” Steve says.

The team has also in­tro­duced an in­te­grated pest man­age­ment sys­tem – which sounds baf­flingly com­pli­cated un­til Steve ex­plains with a smile, “You get good bugs to eat bad bugs”.

The sim­plic­ity is as telling as the flow-on ef­fects.

“You get a bet­ter prod­uct and you cre­ate a bet­ter work­ing en­vi­ron­ment for our staff. In fact, once you start look­ing at greater sus­tain­abil­ity, you get a bet­ter world. Sim­ple as that.”

Steve’s pas­sion for lo­cal busi­ness (and the planet) is ob­vi­ous as he con­tin­ues.

“One of the big things peo­ple don’t re­alise is that buy­ing from a lo­cal pro­ducer doesn’t cost any more, but there are so many ben­e­fits there,” he said.

“You’re sup­port­ing the lo­cal econ­omy and lo­cal jobs, but more im­por­tantly you’re pro­tect­ing our biose­cu­rity.

“Ev­ery day, over­seas prod­ucts come in that have been grown on farms that still use chem­i­cals that we’ve banned in Aus­tralia 40 or 50 years ago – not to men­tion the var­i­ous pests and dis­eases that can slip through and di­rectly af­fect Aus­tralia’s bio­di­ver­sity.

“Ev­ery­body needs to start think­ing about these things as they make their pur­chase de­ci­sions.”

Sup­ply­ing an ex­haus­tive num­ber of mar­kets (in­clud­ing Wool­worths and Coles su­per­mar­kets), the team works tire­lessly to meet their cus­tomers’ needs through­out Queens­land and north­ern NSW.

And an en­ter­prise of this size cer­tainly keeps them on the hop.

“Mon­days and Tues­days are manic,” Ni­cole ex­plains. “We’re flat out fill­ing or­ders and get­ting stock out to all our clients for the week. It’s non-stop.”

“As for our largest ‘days’ – ob­vi­ously Valentine’s Day is pretty big, but Mother’s Day is mas­sive. It’s in­cred­i­ble.

“But, you name any of the sig­nif­i­cant events in peo­ple’s lives - births, deaths, for­mals, wed­dings and you soon re­alise how big a part flow­ers play in mark­ing the oc­ca­sion,” she said.

One tra­di­tion Ni­cole says is gain­ing mo­men­tum in the flower in­dus­try is An­zac Day.

“It’s so nice to see, be­cause as our pop­u­la­tion gets older you would nor­mally ex­pect a drop off in in­ter­est and par­tic­i­pa­tion. But we’re see­ing the op­po­site. Peo­ple aren’t let­ting go and the younger gen­er­a­tions are stepping up to con­tinue the tra­di­tion.”

As we stand in one of the farm’s many green­houses, I can’t help but ask the rhetor­i­cal ques­tion – why do flow­ers con­tinue to have such ap­peal?

Ni­cole throws open her arms, pre­sent­ing the in­cred­i­ble beauty and colour sur­round­ing her in this spe­cial sanc­tu­ary.

“I can be hav­ing the worst day and you walk in here and it in­stantly puts a smile on your face,” she says.

“That’s the ef­fect flow­ers can have on your life.”

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