By BELINDA SCOTT
COFFS COAST wildflower growers are among those suffering the greatest financial pain from the recent collapse of major wildflower marketing and export company IHM Pty Ltd. IHM Pty Ltd, which marketed flowers for 160 Australian growers, went into voluntary liquidation on January 22, owing more than $700,000 mostly to flower growers, transport and forwarding companies. The collapse is now causing a re-assessment of wildflower growing and marketing, considered one of the 'sunrise' industries for the Coffs Coast and one of the region's best hopes for maintaining viable rural smallholdings. The amounts owed to individual flower growers are up to $90,000, with Victorian grower Rosemont Flowers the major creditor, but one major Coffs Coast grower is owed about $40,000. Flower grower and Wildflowers NSW chairman, Gordon Dick, who attended the January 28 creditors meeting of IHM Pty Ltd, said of the 40 growers owed money by IHM, about 35 were Mid North Coast growers, many of whom were owed between $8000 and $10,000. Mr Dick, who is himself owed $7000, addressed growers attending the NSW Wildflower Conference in Coffs Harbour at the weekend about the collapse and its implications for the industry. He said the whole process showed it was time to re-assess weaknesses in the consignment-selling process, not only for flowers, but other horticultural crops, to ensure crops sold on consignment were regarded as belonging to the original grower until the money for them was paid and received.
Brian Sundin, of Sandyn Manor Flowers at Kempsey, is another of IHM's creditors who attended the weekend conference. He said while there had been some 'doom and gloom' at the conference caused by the collapse, the number of exporters looking for product at the conference had shown that they could 'pick up the slack'. He said the IHM crash would change the way Australian growers sold their flowers, with growers increasingly consigning directly to overseas markets like Japan and eliminating middlemen, and smaller growers needing to group together to export. IHM was a vertically integrated business covering growing, harvesting, post-harvest handling and market services. The company marketed products for 160 Australian flower producers in Japan, the USA, Canada and Europe. IHM's Australian principal Brian Freeman, who suffered a heart attack soon after the company's collapse, is a highly-regarded adviser to the flower industry. His international business partners, especially in Japan, have rallied to support the Australian industry, a move appreciated by growers. Several years of drought and severe frosts which restricted flower supply and the rising Australian dollar have been blamed for compounding internal problems in IHM. Flower grower Lloyd Tubb of Bucca, a 'mum-and-dad' wildflower grower, said many wildflower growers were dropping out of the market, because of problems with growing and marketing flowers or because of the cost of paying labour. "We don't put a value on our own labour, otherwise we'd frighten ourselves," he said.