19 December 2018
SILVAN, Australia: If one would start evaluating the size of Australia’s ornamental horticulture, using the most recent figures from AIPH’s International Statistics Yearbook, there’s surprise in the first instance.
Surprise to see that the decline in production area has not contracted further due to a multitude of factors placing pressure on the industry. Think population growth and urban sprawl that have seen much rural land for production converted to residential development. Think too, changes in retail preferences – outlets are switching from higher value, specialist products to more seasonal ones and a more diversified offering. These factors will give rise to a number of important issues for the future of our industry.
Supplier proximity to the market will be a key consideration in 2019, as production areas in Australia are pushed further away from the population due to rising land values and re-zoning for housing.
Crop selections will be influenced and we shall see an increasing concentration on seasonal gift lines due to the changing retail market and consumer preferences. Specialist product line producers and retail outlets will need to concentrate more on niche or value-added products to be successful in capturing consumer spend.
Increasing resource awareness. A growing focus on sustainability and the environment present plenty of opportunities for the industry to capitalise on consumer concerns by presenting positive messages from the green industry and the benefits its products offer.
Predictably, we are seeing an increasing trend in the use of house plants as decorative items, with people wanting to bring ‘green’ into their everyday lives. With its strong visual message, our industry is in a unique position for capturing the innovative opportunities offered by social media. For those who know how to seize it, there has never been a better chance to benefit from such developments.
Of the industry’s most sustainable initiatives, two stand out the most. Firstly, the development and execution of the 20/20/20 plan (http://www.nrm.gov.au/national/20-million-trees ) has presented a solid base for growing national awareness of the impact that green life has on our day-to day-lives and future living conditions. Secondly, our industry initiative – of which I am on the advisory board – the Plant Life Balance app, is helping people make choices for both indoor and outdoor styles. This is a valuable tool when you remember the young people (20-35 year olds) who form our new consumer base and who are entering the market with little knowledge about plants. https://plantlifebalance.com.au/ .The apps aims to make it easier for this group to enjoy green life and, with over 50,000 downloads so far, it is capturing their attention.
Speaking of the consumer market, with the recent demise of a second hardware chain in Australia, the key green life retailer Bunnings has been able to consolidate its market dominance. Like most markets, the shift has continued towards consumer convenience with supermarkets now looking to grow their ornamental / gift line impulse sales which presents opportunities for the green sector. Consumer knowledge levels also continue to contract when it comes to gardening. This is indicated by less gardening shows on TV, a contraction of print media and a decrease in house to land size ratios. With a reduction in garden sizes there is a correlating increase in the importance of presentation and value-added options, with regard to plant sales. For many, green life is now considered similar to other decorative items like soft furnishings and, as such, can be changed according to trends or preferences.
When it comes to ornamental horticulture in Australia, the key factors that are problematic and open to disruption are transportation – the ability to ship plants to retail /consumers using the most cost effective and efficient method that ensures the plants arrive in showcase condition. Equally open to disruption is store /shipping shelf life – items that deal with extending product life and presentation at retail and in transit. Another complex theme is eco sustainability. The challenge lies in dealing with the current container /production waste associated with green life by either developing and adopting eco sustainable /bio degradable packaging that fits the product production and life cycle or innovative reuse /recycling capabilities.
With the global horticulture industry increasingly under threat from existing and new pests and diseases, Australia deals with plant health issues with a zealous application of quarantine laws. Whilst we are very supportive of ensuring that all requirements to protect our country and industry are abided by; and that the government are proactively looking to deal with all known or suspected threats, guidelines must remain current and be open to practical interpretation on factors such as sterile production in labs etc. If we are too rigid and don’t permit safe importation of products into the country, we may reduce economic and other opportunities for our industry.
Meanwhile, labour is a perpetual problem in Australia, with a limited population base and the transient nature of seasonal employment challenged by the large distances between various production hubs. Some of this is managed under government sponsored seasonal labour programs and some via international youth employment visa schemes. However, for most businesses, labour continues to be a key issue and especially in the horticulture industry, where remuneration levels or employment conditions may not be as competitive as other industries.
All in all, I believe the biggest opportunity in 2019 will be to capture consumer interest in the ‘green revolution’ and its links to gardening, whilst it is in the forefront of people’s minds for a large part of the population at this current time.
Author: Anthony Tesselaar
In the upcoming issue (out early January) of FloraCulture International magazine, other key industry figures from China, Germany, USA and Colombia also give their predictions of what the new year may have in store for global ornamental horticulture.