Flower farmers forced to bin or mulch harvest due to restrictions

Businesses involved in the industry can operate at the minimum required to preserve their capital...
Businesses involved in the industry can operate at the minimum required to preserve their capital stock but they cannot sell their product, including to supermarkets and dairies, or export. Photo: File
Under alert level 4 flower growers aren't able to sell or distribute their goods. This means months of work and beautiful flowers are going straight into the bin.

And as level 4 lockdown in Auckland continues to drag on, a group of flower growers want change.

On Saturday, Auckland-based flower grower Aila Morgan Guthrie took to her Instagram page to voice her frustration.

"I've just finished my harvest for the day and this is only one day's harvest. It's going to be the same tomorrow and the same after that and we've still got two more weeks of level 4 lockdown and we can't sell them.

"Is there anyone out there in government or with contacts to government that can help us figure out how we can advocate for flower farmers in level 4. We're one of the only businesses that have perishable goods that we can't sell. All meat, fruit, veg - that can all be sold - but as for us, you know well, what do I do with this? This is all just going to go in the compost heap."

The video shows a trolley full of what she describes as 'perfectly, imperfect sustainable flowers' all going into the compost because under level 4 restrictions, the cut flowers, flower buds and bulbs industry is not allowed to trade.

Businesses involved in the industry can operate at the minimum required to preserve their capital stock but they cannot sell their product, including to supermarkets and dairies, or export.

Her post started a discussion amongst flower farmers and got them thinking about what they think needs to change.

Christy Ralphs, owner of flower growing business Nourish Gardens convened an online meeting with 28 other growers from across Auckland.

She said the longer the lockdown went on the more concerned she became about the industry's survival.

"We can't just close up shop and minimise our costs. We have to continue production if we're still going to have a business at the end of a lockdown and so we are essentially producing a perishable product ... they just have to be chucked so it's a waste product."

"It's pretty financially soul destroying."

Ralphs said they want to be included as essential under the wider Agriculture/Horticulture primary industry, or given dispensations to trade to maintain their capital stock value.

"Our ideal situation would be dispensation to provide safe contactless delivery to customers, with contactless pick-up options where more appropriate. Our next best situation would be dispensation to provide contactless delivery to existing essential businesses e.g. supermarkets, dairies, green grocers & petrol stations."

She believed they could operate safely under level 4.

"We would certainly be looking to operate and under some industry safety standards of Covid-19 protocols to make sure that we are operating in a safe manner while we are harvesting and processing flowers ... and then delivery and handing on the flowers would all be done contactlessly, which we are used to doing anyway."

She said flower growers were several thousands of dollars out of pocket each week during alert level 4 and it was heartbreaking to see the flowers go to waste.

"We are just having to basically ditch them and compost them. And we've got some very pretty compost piles, especially when you put it through the mulcher. It's totally multicolored and very beautiful for a brief moment."

"I have flowers all around my house and in my children's bedrooms and all that is really lovely, but it's kind of weird at the same time, because the whole reason why we love our industry and we loved growing flowers is to share them with others so it kind of feels very odd to be able to do that for ourselves, but not to share with everyone else."

In the coming weeks, flower growers hope to speak with policymakers and see some changes made.

"In the longer term, to aid policy and decision makers to accurately place our industry, we intend to produce an outline of how our industry works, with specific emphasis on the biological nature and time sensitivity of many of our core activities," Ralphs said.

In a statement, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said it was unable to answer any specific questions relating to individual products or retailers.

"It is up to individual businesses to judge whether they meet the definition of an alert level 4 business or service."

"These rules are about reducing the risk of further transmission in the community. Having too many businesses operating during alert level 4 increases the odds of transmission with workers moving in an out of their home bubbles, connecting bubbles, and increasing the potential chain of infection. We encourage businesses to carefully consider whether they really need to be operating, and what the minimum level of operations required are."


Peculiar ruling. Unlike much other farm produce flowers can't be stored in freezers till they can be sold. Is it because flowers are not necessities? Look around any supermarket, what proportion of the stock is necessities? Flowers are givers of pleasure, just like cake and candy of which there are shelves and shelves on sale. If it is about health ban them and allow the happy treat, bunches of beautiful flowers, that does not cause obesity. In level 4 happy treats are important for health.