It’s a job with overseas travel and regular pay, so why are there so few cut flower growers in the Top End?

It’s a job with overseas travel and regular pay, so why are there so few cut flower growers in the Top End?

In the mid 1980s, the Northern Territory’s Department of Primary industries began a trial to grow tropical species of cut flowers.

Key points:

  • The number of Darwin flower growers has steadily dwindled
  • Florists say local tropical flower demand is good 
  • Growers struggle to make a profit when sending flowers interstate

Forty years later, brightly coloured ornamental gingers and red-claw heliconia can be still found in Territorian homes.

However, it could be coming to an end.

The industry began with about 40 growers, but today there are only five, and those left are close to retirement.

Jan Hintze has been growing flowers with her husband outside Darwin in Lambells Lagoon since the NT’s trial.

Now 80 years old, she says the industry is going “fairly poorly”.

“Most of the people still growing flowers are, dare I say, elderly,” Mrs Hintze said.

There are only five flowers growers left in Darwin and its surrounds.(ABC Rural: Annie Brown)

“So they are in the same situation as we are, so I think it will just fade away as we do.

“It’s a pity because I’ve enjoyed it so much, and I’m still enjoying it and you never really imagine the end of something you’ve enjoyed.”

Mrs Hintze said the dwindling number of growers came down to the size of the market, with flowers no longer being sold interstate.

In the early 2000s Mrs Hintze said the cost of air freight increased to a point that was no longer viable for growers.

Tropical cut flowers are not native to the Northern Territory.(ABC Rural: Annie Brown)

“Previously, 90 per cent of our production would go to wholesalers in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane,” she said.

“But the air freight costs went from $1.20 per kilo to $3.50, and it was impossible to make a profit so many growers dropped off.

“At one point we would sell $20,000 worth of flowers a week, now we would do just under $1,000 a week.”

Tropical flowers in demand locally

Despite the small supply of growers in the Darwin region, local florists say the demand for tropical flowers is strong.

Owner of Rain Florist in Darwin, Belinda Shipp said declining number of growers would soon become a big problem for the local industry.

“We definitely need some new growers to come in, not only to take over but because we need more varieties,” she said.

Darwin florist Belinda Shipp said Territorians love tropical flowers.(ABC Rural: Annie Brown)

“We have customers who buy regular tropical flowers because of the quality of them, as they will last up to three weeks up here.”

Without local growers Ms Shipp said they would need to import flowers from overseas to meet the need. 

“I don’t think you can have too many growers. If I didn’t have a florist shop it might be something I would look at,” she said.

“If you’re thinking of helping our beautiful tropical industry, do it because it would definitely be worth it.”

Heliconias are popular across Darwin.(ABC Rural: Annie Brown)

Flower industry needs new blood

Mrs Hintze said she still supplies local florists, despite being semi-retired.

She said it was a pity the next generation of growers hadn’t come forward as cut flowers were a horticultural product that can be sold year-round.

“There’s nothing else you could do on a small farm that’s reliably profitable. We had money coming in every week of the year,” she said.

“There’s no dead season like with fruit. Once the flowers are established, they’re there.

“I spent a number of trips to South America to collect new varieties where they are native; it was a great excuse to travel.”

With the recent arrival of the monsoon, Mrs Hintze said the flowers have come alive again after a long, gruelling dry season.

“In the past few weeks with the bit of rain, productivity has gone up 100 per cent. It’s amazing,” Mrs Hintze said.

Tropical flowers grow year-round in the Top End. (ABC Rural: Annie Brown)

“We irrigate as much as we can during the dry season but it’s not the same as having that lovely sweet rain falling down from the heavens and covering everything.

“Hopefully it keeps raining, every afternoon would be nice; then I can sit inside and read books and in the morning look after my flowers.”

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