Is Green The New Black To Keep Businesses Out The Red?
Whilst our TVs have been overloaded with negative COVID news, a quiet revolution has been taking place in a most unlikely industry.
It seems it isn’t just toilet rolls and hand sanitizer that are flying out the door, but also plants and gardening products. As businesses in general re-invent themselves to avoid going into the red during COVID, all things garden-related are booming.
Could this be the start of something really big in Australia? ABC Gardening Australia presenter, author and garden consultant, Sophie Thomson believes it is. In fact, it was Sophie who coined the term: Green is the New Black.
Talking to Coast to Coast Australia between filming, Sophie said the growth was multi-dimensional in terms of what people are growing.
“Many people had heard the term ‘food security’ before but it wasn’t really real to them; COVID has made it very real,” she said.
“Seeds and seedlings have been flying off the shelves as quickly as toilet rolls! Part of the reason is that people are now more motivated to grow food; the other reason is that gardening is so good for mental health and people have needed that during lockdown.
“People also want reassurance that everything will be okay. At Sophie’s Patch, we grow a huge amount of food so, just before lockdown, when my 17-year-old son asked if we were going to be okay, I could confidently say ‘yes’.
“It made me realise that other kids were probably worried, too, but their parents wouldn’t be able to reassure them. That’s been a wake-up call for people.”
Manufacture of Garden Products
Sophie wasn’t surprised to hear that garden-related businesses –including the manufacture of garden products –were recovering quicker than many others since the start of COVID.
“Even before COVID, there was a lot of debate about the lack of freshness in supermarket fruit and vegetables; the overuse of chemicals in growing and preparing them for sale, and Food Miles.”
[Food Miles refers to the distance food is transported from where it’s made/grown to the consumer. Food Miles are a factor used when testing the environmental impact of food]
“COVID has made us all more aware of food security,” said Sophie.
Reducing Food Miles
“When you grow your own fruit, vegetables, and herbs, you know there’s always something to eat from the garden. And a productive garden means food miles become food metres.
”There are also many environmental reasons for growing more plants, such as helping to cool our homes and cities, and habitat creation for wildlife.
In July 2020, the ABC reported a spike in business for garden centres, nurseries, and horticultural products. Some businesses were reporting a sales increase of 40% or more.
Australia’s largest seedling grower, Oasis Horticulture, reported a sales increase of nearly 200% in March to June last year, with stock selling out within hours of delivery to retailers.
It wasn’t just plants, either; a Queensland potting mix manufacturer had to double his production to keep up with demand.
$2.6 Billion Spent On Plants
The latest Nursery Industry Statistics Survey reveals that in 2020, we spent $2.6 billion on more than 2 billion plants. Sales of her band vegetable plants shot up 27%.
Importantly, from a manufacturing point of view, sales from production nurseries into retail garden centres grew by 10%.
IBISWorld reported that the Nursery Production Industry had been in decline for five years but is now expected to grow by 3.6% in 2020-21.
As the Australian economy recovers from the COVID lockdowns –and greater diversity becomes a must –could the fact that more of us are getting out in the garden be a silver lining?
Support Aussie Growers
“People are demanding better quality and freshness. They don’t want, for example, garlic imported from China that has been treated with chemicals. They don’t want tasteless hydroponic produce. They are demanding not only more taste, but also the health benefits of eating fresh.
“It’s time to support Aussie growers and businesses. During COVID, panic buying was caused by the fear of running out of food. It’s been shown that Australia can grow enough to support the population; we’re not going to run out.”
With the push towards increasing Australia’s manufacturing industry –and buying Australian products –there is undoubtedly an opportunity for garden and food-related industries to diversify and grow.
It’s not just sales of seeds and seedlings that are up. There is more demand for garden consultants, garden tools and implements, even outdoor kitchens and garden furniture as we now entertain more at home.
Increases in demand means more jobs for those displaced by COVID –another silver lining –and greater opportunities for Australian innovation.
Currently, the horticulture industry employs more than 23,000 people across more than 1,600 businesses.
The Dept of Agriculture told Coast to Coast that the farmgate prices of some horticultural products are forecast to rise in the latter part of 2020–21, driven by an expected fall in production due to a significantly reduced supply of overseas labour.
But, said a spokesman, this also presents the industry with an opportunity to put itself in a stronger long-term position that is better prepared for future market upheavals.
“For example, robot harvesters for fruit are being developed and are closer to being commercially viable. If this technology becomes commercially viable it would help protect the industry against future labour shortages.
“Labour saving technologies could also lower variable operating costs, increasing the competitiveness of the industry in growing export markets. However, this kind of innovation requires significant capital investment, and may also require changes to existing production systems.
”The 2020/2021 Federal Budget includes measures to benefit vegetable growers, including incentives to attract local, displaced workers to work on farm, assistance for exporting growers to continue to supply high-quality produce to key global markets, tax incentives to support business investment and growth, and funding for biosecurity and drought resilience and preparedness.