California Cut-Flower Industry Still On Decline

March 5, 2004 - 12:00

Over the past few years, the California cut-flower industry has been struggling, due to foreign competition and subsequent dwindling family-operated businesses. Domestic growers have been facing increasing costs for labor, energy and water, along with strict environmental regulations.

Until the mid-1970s, Americans produced almost all cut flowers sold in this country. The most popular cut flowers in the United States have been roses, carnations, and chrysanthemums. Most carnations were grown in Colorado because it has the perfect growing environment. However, the same conditions exist in Bogota and elsewhere in Colombia, where growers don’t have to pay the high labor charges growers pay in the United States.

"Growers realized they could produce high-quality flowers cheaper and export them to the United States. This led to a major change in the floriculture industry in our country," said Terri Starman, assistant professor of floriculture at the University of Tennessee, according to an article called "This Blooming Business: Cut flowers grow in popularity, and Tennessee is a good place to grow them" by the Tennessee Alumnus.

Ten years ago, 360 growers in California belonged to the California Cut Flower Commission. Now that number is down to 300, with just 95 selling at least $300,000 in cut flowers a year. To deal with this heavy decline, many California growers have started to produce flowers like snapdragons that don’t weather shipping well and must be grown domestically, according to Virginia Walter, professor of horticulture at California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, Calif., in a recent article called "California cut flower industry's coastal lands under growing pressure" by the San Diego Daily Transcript .

Unfortunately, other growers have been forced to shut down and sell their land to developers. It’s lamentable," said Lee Murphy, president of the California Cut Flower Commission, in a recent interview with the Associate Press. "The flower industry’s decline is part of American losing its ability to be a producer nation."

Ten years ago, foreign growers had just 45 percent of the domestic market, according to the commission. In 2002, foreign growers supplied 70 percent of cut flowers in the United States. Their lower prices were fueled by cheaper production costs and efficient shipping systems. Imported cut flowers are shipped dry. In Holland and Colombia, the flowers are put in chambers to remove the field heat, iced down, then shipped. When they reach the United States, wholesalers recut the stems, hydrate the flowers and sell them to florists.

"Growers are being affected by imports from Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador," said Eric Larson, San Diego County Farm Bureau executive director, according to the San Diego Daily Transcript. "They are not only under siege, they haven’t survived. First came the carnation, then the chrysanthemum and then the rose growers."

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