UC Nursery and Floriculture Alliance
University of California
UC Nursery and Floriculture Alliance

The Australian ornamental production industry: How things work down under

by Julie Newman

During my sabbatical leave, I had an opportunity to visit with staff at the Nursery and Garden Industry Association, Queensland and tour a number of nurseries in the Brisbane-Gold Coast area of Australia. Queensland is located in the northeast area of Australia and Brisbane is located along the southeastern coastal part of the state. The Australian nursery industry is surprisingly similar to the California industry in terms of industry issues and production practices. However, organization of the industry and the way extension service is delivered is considerably different. In this issue of UCFNA News, I will share some of the things that I learned about the Australian ornamental production industry, as well as how Aussies are addressing the water issue (see my Regional Report). Additional information will be presented in the next newsletter issue. 

The horticulture production industry in Australia includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, nursery products, cut flowers and turf; it is the third largest and fastest growing agricultural industry (only the grain and meat industries are worth more). The greatest volume of nursery production is concentrated in the eastern States, primarily in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. The climate along the south coast, where the majority of the population resides, is conducive to the production of a broad palette of plants, similar to coastal California. Nursery crop categories include bedding plants and color, bulbs and seeds, indoor and patio plants, propagation stock, and trees and shrubs.

Fig. 1. The Queensland greenhouse and nursery industry is valued at more than 45

Fig. 1. The Queensland greenhouse and nursery industry is valued at more than 450 million USD and is located predominantly along the coastline, with pockets of producers situated in various inland locations. The bulk of production is in the southeast corner of the state where approximately 70% - 80% of these crops are produced. (photo by Julie Newman)

Production nurseries in Australia sell plant material predominately to domestic markets (exports are less than 1% of total production). Major market sectors are garden centers and retail nurseries, landscapers, production horticulturists, other nurseries, wholesale markets and revegetation groups such as Greening Australia. The size of the entire Australian nursery production industry is relatively small compared to California: The wholesale value of nursery plant material sold in Australia in 2009 was 921 million U.S. dollars (USD), whereas California production in 2008 was about 3.5 billion USD. However, despite the smaller size, the Australian industry association’s tightly organized structure and broad base of members and cooperators enables it to effectively gather the funds and resources needed to work proactively to address challenges that are very similar to those faced by nursery growers here in California. Examples of Australian programs that address industry issues include accredited and certified BMP and “green” programs (see my Regional Report) and the industry’s certified biosecurity program.

Turf production and cut flowers are separate horticulture production industries in Australia. Turf production currently has a farm gate value of 431 million USD (California value was 505 million USD in 2008). For cut flowers, statistics are not readily available, but for the two largest growing areas, the farm gate value was estimated at 194 million USD in New South Wales (2003) and 120 million USD (2008) in Queensland (California value was 505 million USD in 2008). Cut flower growers produce traditional cut flowers, especially roses, lilies and gerberas. Chrysanthemums are produced for Mother’s Day, and seasonal bulbs and flowers in the spring. Most traditional flowers are grown with some protection, commonly in poly tunnels, and are sold on the domestic market. Australian wildflowers— native flowers and foliage and South African flowers in the Proteaceae—are primarily cultivated in plantations and account for 90% of the industry’s exports. These include filler flowers such as waxflower and kangaroo paws and seasonal focal flowers such as banksia and protea. Some flowers and foliage are wild-harvested under license.

Agricultural extension

Unlike the United States, state departments of agriculture, rather than land grant universities, are the major public providers of agricultural services in Australia, and these programs have historically had a strong emphasis on production-based technology transfer. However, in most states in Australia, cutbacks in funding from state governments and changing policies about the role of government have put pressure on state departments of agriculture to review and restructure, which has affected the nature of the services they provide and the ways that those services are provided. The changing agricultural extension environment in Australia reflects a worldwide trend towards the privatization of agricultural extension services. Currently, private Research and Development Corporations (RDCs) are taking a proactive role in extension. The RDCs work with a diverse group of extension players, including farmer organizations, cooperatives, supply and chemical companies, multinational corporations, marketing boards, cooperative research centers, university departments and state departments of agriculture to collect funds and invest in extension programs in which all these groups play a role. Rather than an emphasis on research-based extension programs (“research-push”), the extension programs in Australia are more “demand-pull,” so that growers have more control of the information that they need or want and the way it is delivered—at a cost largely shared by industry. This type of extension model has both advantages and disadvantages that are too complex and lengthy to present here. A good discussion is provided by Marsh and Pannel (1998) and can be reviewed at www.general.uwa.edu.au/u/dpannell/dpap982f.htm.

Industry organizations

The Nursery and Garden Industry, Australia (NGIA). NGIA is a national organization for businesses that produce and sell plants and container media for gardens and landscapes. NGIA works jointly with seven state and territory Nursery and Garden Industry (NGI) associations to accomplish their mission of providing a united and sustainable industry. Membership fees depend on the number of employees and range from 575-2,208 USD. (As comparison, membership fees for CANGC are based on annual sales and range from 300-9,000 USD.) Funding for the nursery and garden industry for marketing and research and development (R&D) is provided by industry levies, voluntary contributions and government subsidies. The nursery products levy, also referred to as the “pot levy,” is payable on all containers in which plants are grown for resale, including plastic bags, root control bags and biodegradable pots. The levy is currently set at 5% of the wholesale value of the container and is collected at the point of purchase of the containers. Annual levy collections for the nursery industry total nearly 2 million USD, and when matched by the Commonwealth Government, is close to 3 million USD. The levy program funds more than 20 programs ranging from technical studies to consumer promotions. In addition to these levy-funded programs, matching Commonwealth funds are provided for an extensive list of other programs.

Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL). HAL is a national non-profit, industry-owned RDC that works in partnership with the entire horticulture industry to invest in R&D and marketing programs that provide benefit to horticulture and the wider community. HAL invests approximately $86 million USD annually in projects and runs more than 1200 R&D and marketing projects covering a wide range of topics. HAL conducts some activities within the marketing program, but most activities are contracted out to other organizations such as state departments of agriculture, universities, and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency. Industry groups working with HAL can access matching Government Commonwealth funds for R&D activities. Horticulture industry advisory committees, consisting of representatives nominated by industry from a broad range of expertise, provide direction and advice to HAL on the most appropriate use of funds to ensure maximum industry benefit.
The levy program for the nursery industry is facilitated by HAL in collaboration with NGIA and the state nursery and garden associations. A key levy-funded program which is supported by HAL and is complimentary to all nursery industry businesses is the employment of an Industry Development Officer (IDO) in each State/Territory association. Some state associations have multiple IDOs (e.g., Queensland). The main role of the IDO is to provide advice to all sectors of the nursery and garden industry relating to technical, environmental and horticultural issues. The IDO functions in a similar capacity to the farm advisor or NRCS field representative in technical on-site assistance and links with researchers. The IDO also represents the industry with state government agencies to ensure that the industry is considered in key issues.

Another key levy-funded resource for nursery growers supported by HAL is the employment of a Business Skills Development Officer (BSBO) in six of the seven State/Territory association offices. The BSBO helps growers achieve industry business accreditation and provides a link for financial management, human resources issues and training industry programs. The BSBO also gives advice and helps growers improve every aspect of the business, including administration and marketing. HAL also works with the nursery and garden industry in developing strategic plans, preparing annual programs, and facilitating linkages between the nursery and garden industry and other horticultural industries and agencies. Furthermore, HAL provides IDOs and R&D services for the turf and floriculture industries.

The Flower Association of Queensland Inc (FAQI) and National Flower Working Group.  FAQI represents Queensland floriculture greenhouse growers, growers of tropical flowers and foliage, and in-ground native and wildflower growers. Members also include equipment and installation suppliers, wholesalers, exporters, florists, specialist consultants and advisors, researchers and educators. FAQI proactively addresses common challenges, implements solutions and represents its members to government, technical agencies and other industry groups. Membership fee is dependent on the number of employees and is less for new members (87-408 USD). FAQI works primarily with the Queensland Government and industry groups to fund activities and is staffed with one IDO. The floral industry in Australia is somewhat fragmented. However FAQI has begun a process to coordinate efforts with representatives from New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria with HAL to form the National Flower Working Group (NFWG) to address national efforts.

Turf Producers Australia Ltd (TPA). TPA is the national representative body of the turf industry. TPA includes four state associations, and the state association for Queensland has one IDO. Membership is a flat annual fee (408 USD). R&D programs are administered through HAL with a levy program that works in a similar manner as the NGIA. The levy is collected from all turf growers that produce over 20,000 square meters (m2) of turf (approximately 215,278 square feet); these growers annually pay a 1.5 cent per m2 industry levy which is matched by the government for R&D.

Julie Newman is Environmental Horticulture Farm Advisor, UC Cooperative Extension, Ventura County.

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