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30 September 2020
By DEAN LAWSON
It has taken five years, but Wimmera farmland devastated by fire is back producing flowers for the international export market.
Australian Wildflowers, which has its headquarters at Laharum and another farm at Lucindale in South Australia, lost 80 percent of its Mt Talbot farm when fire raced through Black Range State Park near Telangatuk in 2015.
At the time, the company had bought the property just before Christmas 2014, only to see it go up in flames the following month.
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The significance of the first commercial pick of Geraldton wax flowers, which make up a large percentage of the crop, is far from lost on company director Jo Gardner.
“We lost about 80 percent of the farm and spent a fortune replanting it all and getting it operational again. Now it just looks amazing,” she said.
“The fire went through the guts of the farm. We didn’t lose any sheds but we lost the crop. It takes between five and seven years to get them established and this year’s commercial flower pick is the first at the site since the fire.”
The Australian Wildflowers farm at Mt Talbot covers about 182 hectares and about 90 percent of the property is planted out to wildflowers. A large percentage of the crop includes five key species of Geraldton wax, highly prized in the cut-flower industry.
Ms Gardner said a workforce of seven, all from the region’s Karen community, ran the farm and all were busy packing flowers for export to China.
“We’re in the process of assessing the extent of harvest at Mt Talbot but already have our international orders and they are all going to China. We’re bypassing a flooded domestic market for this product,” she said
“Expectations are that our Mt Talbot team will hopefully be packing thousands of bunches of flowers throughout the season, which runs from now until Christmas.
“It’s nice to see a return for all the investment and being able to recoup some of the costs after the fire.
“We were devastated at the time and knew we had a huge challenge, so it’s nice to see that after five years all the work is going to pay off.”
Ms Gardner said Australian Wildflowers operations, which ‘went through the wringer’ when COVID-19 struck earlier this year, was on a general road to recovery.
“We’ve had to learn how to ‘pivot’,” she said.
“While the domestic market is returning to relative normality there are many fluctuations and markets are changing all the time and hard to predict. We have had to be versatile and adapt so it’s not so scary when we have to do it.”
Exhaustive efforts to modify workplaces and adjust production to meet demand earlier this year allowed the business to keep its 53-strong workforce.
Australian Wildflowers, which started in 2013 and develops, grows, cuts, prepares, packs and sells a range of Australian and South African flowers, all but came to a standstill during the first COVID-19 lockdown, experiencing zero trade for about five weeks.
But a major operations reshuffle and help from the Federal Government’s JobKeeper scheme provided an opportunity for the firm to stay afloat until the market showed signs of recovery.
The entire September 30, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!
The entire September 30, 2020 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!