Things are looking up for orchid growers, with the flower export market rebounding strongly after being brought to its knees during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
New Zealand’s flower export industry is worth about $20 million a year. Most of that is made up of cymbidium orchids, hydrangeas and peonies.
Covid-19 lockdowns forced the industry to shift into survival mode, but the head of NZ Bloom, the country’s largest flower exporter, said the industry rebounded with sizeable payoffs for growers last year.
Managing director David Ballard told RNZ growers were getting strong prices, but international demand for orchids was mixed.
“The big change this year from last year, is that the yen has weakened a lot; it’s sitting at, I think, nearly a 30-year low against the US dollar,” he said.
“Japan is the largest market for cymbidium orchids, so that means the returns out of Japan aren’t as good as we would like them to be, which really means we’re trying to move more product into other markets.”
Many growers were pivoting to export to the strong North American market instead, but it was not all plain sailing there either, Ballard said.
“North America, at the moment, is the stronger market in the world,” he said.
“My caution at the moment is, we’re just coming into the slowdown period around July the 4th there, so we’ve got a difficult couple of weeks to navigate through that holiday period.
“But generally, we’re expecting the whole season to work out to be a pretty good year for the growers.”
The industry had not been immune to the chronic labour shortages and global freight disruptions many exporters were facing, Ballard said.
“In the past, we’ve used a lot of backpackers to do the winter work in the greenhouses.
“It’s a nice job to have through the winter and undercover in a greenhouse surrounded by flowers.
“But there’s very few backpackers around and so labour shortages and costs are a big problem for growth. The business owners are putting a lot more of their own personal labour in, which is not ideal, because it takes the eye off managing their business, which is what they should be doing.
“Growers are really working hard to employ more locals and find more people, but it’s just not always possible.”
For some, freight disruptions have meant customer service has had to be sacrificed in some instances, Ballard said.
“It’s not as flexible as it used to be. It’s quite hard to fill last-minute orders or to shift the size of orders to suit the customers at late notice.
“We used to be able to do that quite easily in the pre-Covid days, when there were lots of planes coming in and out of New Zealand and now it’s much less flexible, which means that the quality of our service for customers is probably not as good as we would like it to be.”
Ballard expected freight issues to ease once flights in and out of New Zealand were back to their normal schedules.