20 Aug 2014

Flower grower numbers 'plummeted'

5:01 pm on 20 August 2014

The president for the New Zealand Flower Growers' Association said people will be forced to rely increasingly on fresh lower imports due to an exodus of growers here.

David Blewden, who is one of the country's largest lily growers, said the preliminary results from a recent survey show that grower numbers have plummeted and many of those who remain are looking to retire.

The Flower Growers' Association says more needs to be done to encourage younger people to join the industry.

The Flower Growers' Association says more needs to be done to encourage younger people to join the industry. Photo: PHOTO NZ

Of the 120 contacts on his list, just 40 were still active growers and many are not employing any staff, Mr Blewden said.

"The current crop of growers are not going to be growing indefinitely, and over the next ten years there's clearly going to be a huge turnover in growers.

"And at the moment, as an industry, we're not at all well organised in terms of encouraging new growers into the industry."

Mr Blewden said another issue is it seems to be all or nothing in terms of business sizes, which makes it harder for young people to get a foot in the door.

"It's also highlighted a very hollow middle in terms of size of the nurseries. They either tend to be owner-operator employing no staff, or quite large operations employing seven or more staff."

"There are very, very few nurseries employing in the range of two to five staff members - so either very, very small hands-on, or reasonably large."

Mr Blewden said the flower industry needs to find a way of creating pathways for school leavers to enter the profession.

Many flower growers are looking to sell up as their average age in New Zealand is 56 or 57 years old, he said.

"The nurseries that are large enough to employ staff do their own in-house training so there is not a real obvious pathway for someone leaving school to enter the horticultural industry as a grower."