With their bright colours and large blooms, gerbera flowers “just make you feel happy” according to a Queensland grower of more than 20 years.
Andrew Borthwick and his family are one of only three gerbera growers left on the Sunshine Coast.
They have up to 6,000 plants of 30 varieties under production in six basic colours and many shades in between.
Mr Borthwick says the gerbera is a flower for all occasions.
He says they are often bought to cheer people up and the event determines the colour.
“Valentine’s Day, everyone wants red; Mother’s Day, they all want pinks and white,” Mr Borthwick says.
“Yellow is very much a sympathy kind of thing, the pastel colours are used when you don’t want to brighten, you just want to say hello.'”
Mr Borthwick says gerberas are a member of the daisy family and originated in South Africa.
“I’m no expert on this but my understanding is they’re known as the Barberton daisy, which was from Africa,” he says.
’24/7 — like a dairy herd’
Mr Borthwick says growing gerberas is a full-time operation that requires ongoing commitment.
“When we first started, we went along to a gerbera grower meeting and there would have been about 50 or 60 people in the room, all looking to do some sort of retirement income and soon realised it wasn’t quite the retirement sort of package they were thinking,” he says.
“There is quite a bit of work involved, you just can’t walk off and leave your farm for a month and jump in the caravan.
“It’s 24/7, pretty much like a dairy herd. They need to be picked every week, twice a week they need to be looked after, cared for, and a lot those [initial] farmers have all disappeared.”
COVID and climate
While the constant rain and lack of sunshine throughout 2022 had proven to be difficult growing conditions on the farm, Mr Borthwick says the COVID-19 pandemic had created both changes — and opportunities.
“There was a massive decrease in the amount of purpose or reason to have flowers,” he says.
“All the office work, all the front of desk, all of the reception flowers … the pub flowers, all the function flowers disappeared.”
But with imported and interstate flowers not available for a large part of the pandemic, it left local growers to fulfil the demand.
Keeping it local
The boutique farmer, who describes his property as “a small, niche little place eking out a living”, sells to florists within a small radius and at the farm gate.
He does not sell his flowers through major supermarkets or compete with large-scale growers in Sydney or Melbourne that have up to 70,000 plants in acres of greenhouses.
“We’ve spent 20 years developing very tight close networks within earshot of here,” Mr Borthwick says.
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