The Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival is here and the town comes to life. It starts with the AFL Grand Final and runs through to Christmas. The weather is warming but not too hot with the odd wet period to keep everything growing. Daylight Savings kicks in, sales are up, cash flow is good and everyone is positive. It is a great time to be alive and in Melbourne.
The Spring Racing Carnival is an energetic and exciting period each year. The whole community gets behind it. I have long felt and even suggested to the relevant bodies that we should have an Autumn Garden Festival. It could start in late February and culminate at the end of March with the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. We could promote garden fairs and shows in country towns, schools and across the range of small to large public gardens.
The possibilities are endless and the potential to improve our sector, the beauty of our cities and gardens and the health of the community is immense. I believe the broader population would get in behind and support the initiative. I have spoken to media people and they love the idea and would relish the opportunity to excite the people of Victoria with plants.
As Australians we are a mixed up group. We are proud of who and what we are whilst not liking to say so. We are confident and treat everyone as an equal but at the same time we seem to think that Europe and USA are smarter and more developed. We also think we are a friendly nation open to all comers, however we are so focused in ‘all being equal’ that we forget to be nice and show respect. We forget that good manners are just that and there is no implication of better or worse.
Di and I just returned from a hectic three week trip to the USA. We spent half the time on an IPPS tour of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida and the rest in northern California and Oregon. We went to dozens of mammoth nurseries – 400 to 3000 acres. They are big and neat but slow on turnover. Where as we have big nurseries our focus is on how many plants we produce and not how many acres. The ‘Southern Hospitality’ is humbling. Every nursery we visited put on huge spreads of food, drink and even music – not much alcohol though. We felt like visiting royalty.
They have had such ample supply of cheap labour that their labour practices and worker efficiencies are something from the dark ages. The production rates, handling and movement speeds are so slow that sometimes we were stunned into silence. This changed recently and they are now moving into machines, automation and production rates per person that are a marked increase.
Like us they have the conflict between big barns and independents, fluctuations due to weather changes and economic pressures. They sell everything in ‘?? gallon pots’ like we do in ‘?? inch pots’. One nursery recently lost a court battle with their consumer affairs body because the pot was 1.9 gallons and not 2 gallons. Now they are trying to address this stupid bureaucratic decision.
They also have huge opportunities to expand the range of plants that are grown and used. The average garden in most towns and cities has very few plants and is mostly lawn with a few hardy shrubs. If they could only convince the home owners and gardeners to plant more plants from a wider palette of varieties. If each house could plant out 20 new plants they would double or triple their industry.
As a nation we are miles ahead in both efficiency and innovation. We have unique pressures on us as producers with a small population (not much more than some US cities) spread over a large land mass (same size as continental US) across a huge range of climatic zones (equatorial to very cool temperate and alpine). This has meant that we have to efficiently grow a wide range of plants with minimal automation. This is made worse by the fact that we have some of the most expensive labour in the world. We have had to find ways to simplify the processes, motivate the staff and excite the customers. We have done this well and lead the world in nursery production.
I hope you had a win on the cup and are in full swing in the run up to Christmas. If you get a chance to join an IPPS International tour, grab it – you will have a great time and learn a lot.