Commercial flower growing in NSW - an industry snapshot

Date: 21 Oct 2003  Author: Bettina Gollnow  

The industry - its value and location

NSW DPI estimates the value of the cut flower industry in New South Wales to be up to A$202.7 million per annum at farm gate, climbing to A$800 million at retail level. It is but a small part of a worldwide industry, worth an estimated US$7 billion in 2000. Cut flower growing is an expanding industry, with over 700 established growers. Most of the expansion in the last 5–10 years is in growing flowers and foliage crops native to Australia and South Africa (called ‘wildflowers’). See Growing Australian native flowers commercially.

The traditional flower industry is based mainly in the Sydney region, which extends from the Central Coast just north of Sydney, down to the South Coast, and west to the Blue Mountains, where the climate allows year-round production of a wide range of flowers. The estimate for local production is $187.7 million per annum at farm gate. Traditional flower growers are also located elsewhere in the state, including the North and South Coasts, Southern Tablelands, and several centres further inland.

Wildflower growers have established along the coastal strip from the North Coast right down to the Far South Coast, and the Southern Tablelands, as well as further inland, for example the Central West region of NSW. Many wildflower growers produce exclusively for the export market, while others sell on both the domestic and export markets.


Most of the flowers produced are sold on the domestic market, mostly through the Sydney Flower Market at Flemington, Sydney. Growing flowers for commercial purposes close to metropolitan Sydney has a number of advantages:

  • Consumers and florists are able to buy a wide variety of fresh flowers direct from the grower.
  • Flowers can be transported in water, which can enhance vase life and reduce damage associated with packaging.
  • Local marketing reduces the need for packaging (and its recycling) associated with transporting flowers over long distances.
  • The industry can recycle urban and industrial waste products in the production cycle. This helps reduce the amount of waste products sent to landfills and treatment works.
  • The industry is part of a large horticultural/agricultural industry which enhances the scenic/aesthetic aspects, as well as the amenity value and cultural diversity, of Sydney’s rural fringe, and provides green space.
  • The metropolitan location of farms also allows efficient handling and transport of flowers destined for other domestic and export markets.

There are major flower exporters located in and around Sydney who target key markets in Japan, South-East Asia, Europe and North America. The total value of flower exports from Australia reached a value of over A$55 million in 2002, and 95% of this consists of Australian native and South African species.

Only top quality flowers should be exported. Major overseas producers like the Netherlands have set extremely high standards for flowers traded on the world market. For further information, see the publication Exporting cut flowers.

Labour and technical expertise

Commercial flower growing is a labour-intensive and technically challenging business. The industry has an important role in providing employment. About one-third of traditional crops are now grown in greenhouses, while the balance is grown in the field. Most wildflower crops are grown in plantations, planted in rows.

Investment in new growing technology is increasing in the following areas:

  • greenhouses and associated climate control;
  • growing out-of-season crops;
  • using hydroponic systems.

Flower types

Australian and South African flowers

A wide range of flowers native to Australia and South Africa are grown in NSW.

Most growers produce more than one type of flower crop. Species grown for flowers and foliage include a very wide range of traditional flowers like roses, carnations, chrysanthemums and other crops like gerberas, lilies, asters, statice, freesias, poppies, baby’s breath, lisianthus and alstromeria.

Australian native species like waratah, kangaroo paw, NSW Christmas bush, flannel flower, eucalyptus, as well as a wide variety of proteas (native to south Africa) are also grown. Growers tend to specialise in either traditional crops, or natives and/or proteas. The industry also supplies a range of foliage products to the floristry industry.

Demand for flowers

Fresh flowers play a unique role in our lives, both in celebration and in sorrow. Unlike most other horticultural crops, demand for fresh flowers is often related to fashion trends. Our growing multicultural population has seen an increased use of flowers outside of the traditional peaks of Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas. For other festive occasions like Chinese New Year and Orthodox Easter, fresh flowers are used extensively.

New flower lines and cultivars are being introduced all the time, either in new colours and shapes of traditional flowers like roses and chrysanthemums, or as new Australian native crops. Other lines are associated with a particular season, like stocks for winter, daffodils and other bulbs for spring, and berries for autumn.

Specialist support

The industry is well supported, with specialist training in horticulture and floristry offered at various tertiary institutions throughout NSW. There is also a diverse allied industry providing goods and services to the flower industry - everything from plants, seeds and fertilisers, to greenhouse covers, sophisticated computer management software and irrigation equipment, and the latest vases and floristry accessories.

How to get started

The idea of growing flowers appeals to many people. However, like most enterprises, flower growing is not simple, and new entrants should view it as a business rather than a hobby. Many new and intending growers have little experience in horticulture and find it difficult to obtain reliable background information.

Planning to grow flowers in an area where there is no established industry involves even greater challenges. To compete successfully in this very competitive industry, newcomers need advantages like technical expertise in flower growing, as well as training in business management and marketing. Be prepared to conduct a lot of research before deciding whether this is for you - the industry needs professionals.

In summary, flower growing is high-risk, labour-intensive, resource-intensive, capital-intensive and subject to global market forces.

The Centre for Native Floriculture ( at the School of Land Crop & Food Sciences of the University of Queensland at Gatton has produced an interactive scenario for would-be wildflower growers: I think I want to grow native flowers is available online.

Do a feasibility study first

So, what are the essentials? First you need to do a feasibility study, and review the range of environments in which you will be operating in order to see how you will fit into them and in what areas you need to develop your skills. A feasibility study should cover:

  • the market — domestic and export markets, market demand, product requirements;
  • the flower business — management skills, a business plan, financial resources, record keeping, risks and their management. In recent times, rulings by the Australian Tax Office have required growers to demonstrate more clearly the lead time for a particular crop to become commercially viable;
  • legal issues — a range of state and federal laws impact on flower growing, for example in relation to land clearing, dam construction, water access, plant quarantine, export permits for native flora, pesticide use, and occupational health and safety;
  • site selection — geographical location, climate, water availability, topography, soil type, aspect, access to skilled labour, market access (transport);
  • technical skills, and access to outside expertise such as consultants;
  • competitive edge.

Capital costs


Land is only a small part of the total establishment cost in floriculture. The minimum area for a viable flower farm is 2–4 ha. For better economies of scale, a farm size of 5–10 ha is recommended, especially for native flower or protea growing. Some crops return a higher yield per unit of production area than others - keep this in mind.


Once you have purchased your land, you will need to invest in the following infrastructure:

  • buildings (e.g. greenhouses, shadehouses, a packing shed, office facilities, secure farm chemical and fertiliser storage)
  • dams or bores
  • power
  • machinery, e.g. tractor
  • equipment, e.g. secateurs, safety gear
  • irrigation systems
  • a van or truck
  • coolroom storage
  • postharvest facilities.

Set-up costs

The following set-up costs should be considered:

  • bed preparation
  • weedmat or mulch
  • plants
  • shelter
  • irrigation system and installation.

Working capital

You must have adequate working capital to support the venture until it generates income, which may be as long as 3–4 years for many wildflower species. You need to be able to cover the costs of:

  • power
  • fertilisers
  • pesticides
  • labour
  • repairs
  • slashing
  • fuel
  • postharvest costs — solutions, packaging, freight
  • general property maintenance — roads, fences, buildings etc.
  • business/office expenses — rates, insurance, power, fax, phone, photocopying, internet access, printing, fees (loan repayments, bank fees, industry association memberships etc.), conferences, consultancy fees
  • AND your living costs.

Financial planning

  • Your financial planning must allow for unexpected crop or yield losses due to insect or animal pest damage, disease, or inclement weather.
  • If you are planning to export flowers, you will need up-front capital for airfreight and production costs for 2–3 months before you receive any return. See the publication Exporting cut flowers for further information.
  • You also need to plan to replace plants as they reach the end of their productive life, and it is preferable to maintain a trial block to test potential crops.

Recommended further reading

Traditional flower growing

Armitage, Allan M & Judy M Laushman 2002, Specialty cut flowers, 2nd edn, Varsity Press/Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, USA.

Dole, JM & Wilkins, HF 1999, Floriculture — Principles and species, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, USA.

Gollnow, B 1998, Growing traditional flowers successfully — A guide for new and established growers, NSW Department of Primary Industries (then NSW Agriculture).

Salinger, JP 1985, Commercial flower growing, Butterworths Horticultural Books, New Zealand.

Worrall, R, Gollnow, B & Wade, N 2000, Rose flower care for professionals, NSW Department of Primary Industries (then NSW Agriculture).

Wildflower growing

The Australian wildflower industry — A Review, 1997, 2nd edn, Report by Karingal Consultants for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.

Carson C et al. 2000, Should I grow wildflowers?, Agrilink Horticulture Series QAL 0001, Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane. (For more information contact Agrilink manager, Department of Primary Industries, PO Box 5269 SCMC, Nambour QLD 4560.)

Carson, C & Lewis, J 1997, Rice flower integrating production and marketing. Information Series Q197104. (Enquiries to the Manager, Publishing Services, Department of Primary Industries, Queensland, GPO Box 46, Brisbane QLD 4001.)

Gollnow, B 1999, Getting started in native flower production, 2nd edn, NSW Agriculture.

Hyde, KW (ed.) 1998, The New Rural Industries — a handbook for farmers and investors, Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. (Includes chapters on acacias, banksias, blandfordia, boronias, eucalypts, flannel flowers, geraldton wax and relatives, ixodea, kangaroo paw, NSW christmas bush, protea, leucadendron and waratah, riceflowers, smokebush, stirlingia and thryptomene.)

Johnson, K & Burchett, M (eds) 1996, Australian plants — their horticulture and uses, University of NSW Press, Sydney.

Lewis, J, Warfield, B & Tomes, R, Rice flower as an export industry — Market opportunities, Information Series QI97029, Department of Primary Industries, Queensland. (Enquiries to the Manager, Publishing Services, Department of Primary industries, Queensland, GPO Box 46, Brisbane QLD 4001.)

Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Rice flower production guidelines for growers. (Available from GrowSearch Australia, PO Box 327, Cleveland QLD 4163.)

Postharvest care

Faragher, J, Slater, T, Joyce, D & Williamson, V, Postharvest handling of Australian flowers — from Australian native plants and related species, RIRDC Publication No. 02/021.

Jones, R 2001, Caring for cut flowers, 2nd edn, Landlinks Press, Colllingwood, Australia.