Meet a grower.
Charles Reynolds—Florescence Quality Cut Flowers
I grow liliums on my farm in Western Australia. About 80 per cent of the crop is oriental liliums and about 20 per cent is LA hybrid lilies. We grow our entire crop in plastic tunnel houses, which are heated in winter. As we have naturally-occurring highly acidic soil, we have built raised beds, 1.8 metres wide and 58 metres long, with high-quality soil in which to grow the bulbs.
Providing the flowers with a healthy growing environment is essential and takes regular monitoring and management every day. As our crop turn-over does not allow time to rest the rows prior to replanting, disease management is critical. This is done with the use of beneficial fungicides, bacteria and biological support systems such as fish emulsion and compost. Our very simple heating system has a very positive return, not only allowing the Orientals to grow in winter, but significantly reducing the outbreaks of the fungal disease botrytis. Good labour is very important and we benefit from a consistent turnover of wonderful young backpackers to assist in our production cycle.
My wife and I started our careers as officers in the Australian Army. Our move into flower farming was not a researched career change, so we arrived with very large and thick rose-coloured glasses! We didn’t want to go into retail or to get office jobs, so when the lily farm was available for purchase, we viewed it as a great option. When we made the ‘sea change’ we lacked knowledge in running a small business. I hold an MBA and diplomas in management and leadership and these were definitely helpful, but many of the practical issues of managing workers compensation, staff tax and superannuation requirements and the understanding of a good accounting package are things worth knowing before going into business. We did not come into growing with any formal horticultural qualifications, but there is no question that having some formal training would have assisted us, especially in the early days. The success we have achieved has been through trial and error, and we have been very lucky to link into support networks that have allowed us to grow and develop our skills so that we can now manage our crop.
We have supported two young people to achieve a Diploma of Management, which they gained through on-the-job training in the management of farm activities. They were required to research a number of farm projects, developing detailed business plans and overseeing their implementation. Examples of projects include the building of four new tunnels and developing our online bulb site, BulbsOnline.com.au.
Farmers need to see themselves as business people, not just growers. To achieve this in an ever-changing economic and social environment, formally structured small business training is essential. In a flower farming business, you must constantly be looking for efficiencies and innovative ways to grow and market your product. Unless you are a very large grower, your business plan must include retail sales to compensate for the variable wholesale price. For those interested in flower farming, I suggest they spend some time working on a flower farm. If then interested in running or managing a farm, you will need business management and horticulture skills. Formal courses are very important but don’t forget that often the best instruction for the latter comes from experienced growers.
Flower farming is a seven-day-a-week job, with challenging physical requirements and a need to second-guess Mother Nature! But the rewards can be significant and a well-structured business can provide an enjoyable career with a satisfying financial return.