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Frosts wipe out 80 per cent of Victorian grower's wildflower crop

Isabella Pittaway, Wednesday August 9, 2017 - 11:55 EST
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James Frew's farm is filled with frost burnt flowers. - ABC

Frosts have destroyed about 80 per cent of a Victorian grower's wildflower crop, potentially forcing him to close his business.

James Frew has been growing wildflowers on 100 acres of land at Longford, near Sale, for nearly 40 years.

Normally when he drives around his paddocks he is greeted with rows of vibrant colours, but a series of frosts last month has turned the green and yellow hues brown and grey.

"It's really still unwinding and every day that we go out it looks worse," Mr Frew said.

"We are probably down to about one fifth of our production and that's the immediate effect.

"The plants are just dying and there's probably no hope of recovery for a lot of them."

Mr Frew said along with a change in scenery the frost burnt plants have filled the wildflower farm with an undesirable smell.

"Normally the place is very colourful and there's sweet-smelling air and I would say now the colour is brown or grey and there's a sort of pungent smell around the farm that's just rotting vegetation and rotting sugars in the flowers," he said.

"It's quite an acrid smell and not pleasant at all."

Crop loss to impact wider community

Mr Frew said the impact of the frost damage goes beyond crop loss.

"Even if we recovered in two years' time I think that will probably be too long for the continuity of our business. It will be very difficult to keep staff," he said.

"We've had our loyal staff over the years and we've always had backpackers here for as long as we can keep them. In fact, we kept one on full-time last year and after the frosts she had to go."

Mr Frew said his flowers are often used in the wider Sale community.

"The local florist favoured our flowers and a lot of people felt an affinity with the wildflower farm because we presented ourselves in the town in lots of different ways, with supporting Rotary, the Sale show jumping championships and non-profit organisations," he said.

"People tended to ask for our flowers for funerals and special events."

It is not the first time Mr Frew's wildflower farm has been impacted by wild weather.

"We've had trying times, we've had a prolonged drought period and horrendous heat damage on Australia day in 2000, 2003 and 2006," he said.

"That manifested itself in hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage and you could pick up the pieces for the following year, but this is different."

While it is likely Mr Frew will close his Australian Wildflower business, he has hopes to open a small florist business for his wife Annette.

"What I have been doing is collecting different sorts of plants and setting up a little [floristry] business, so if people wanted their wildflowers for that sort of thing then that would be possible," he said.

"Ultimately, I'd like to have a cross-section of plants that are useable in floristry maybe there'll be 500 different types of flowers that I'll be growing on the 10 acres."


© ABC 2017

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