feature story

cut flowers
  in america

Trends in domestic production and imports.


According to the report, “Floriculture and Nursery Crops Situation and Outlook Yearbook,” produced in June 2005 by Andy Jerardo at the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service, American consumption of floriculture crops reached $6 billion (wholesale) in 2004, a 4-percent increase from 2002, primarily due to increased sales of bedding and garden plants.* The report also indicates that per-household consumption of cut flowers increased from $9.18 in 2003 to $10 in 2004 (8.9 percent).
In addition, the quantity of U.S. cut flower imports rose 7 percent in 2004 while the value of those imports rose 16 percent, to a record 64 percent of the U.S. cut flower supply. The value increases were due, in part, to higher prices, some of which were the result of the dollar’s depreciated exchange rate. Only about 36 percent of the U.S. cut flower supply, in value terms, was grown domestically in 2004.

Colombia is, by far, the largest source of U.S. cut flower imports, and Ecuador is the second-largest source. In value, imports from those two countries increased 21 percent and 27 percent, respectively, in 2004. Meanwhile, the value of cut flowers imported from the European Union fell 3 percent.
Shipments of cut roses from Colombia and Ecuador jumped significantly for the second year in a row. These two countries also are exporting more of other cut flowers to the United States, including chrysanthemums and carnations. These imports are largely responsible for the decline in domestic cut flower production.
In 2000, America’s top cut flower crops (imports and domestics combined) were roses, lilies, Gladioli, tulips and Irises, in that order. While most of the top crops remained the same in 2004, some of their numbers changed dramatically, and there was a newcomer to the top crops list: Gerberas. (See chart on page 70 for more details.)
These changes reflect a continuing shift from traditional crops to specialty products, which is expected to continue. Both American growers and off-shore suppliers are finding new product niches beyond those traditionally dominated by growers in Colombia and Ecuador.
For example, the number of lilies grown domestically increased 27.3 percent over the last four years. And Gerberas showed an impressive increase of 86.3 percent from 2000 to 2004. Tulips also increased nicely during the same period—27.9 percent. While the majority of these crops are grown in California, Washington now boasts 35.8 percent of American tulip production.

According to Peggy Dillon, communications/PR manager for the California Cut Flower Commission (CCFC), off-shore producers, including the South American “powerhouses,” aren’t readily able to replicate these specialty crops. “Gerberas are difficult to produce and require specialized care during the growing cycle,” she explains.
In addition, bulb products are costly to ship from the Netherlands, so America’s bulb flower growers, led by Dutch flower growers with the expertise associated with their native region, can offer comparable products without costly freight.

Meanwhile, flowers dominated by imports show continuing downward production. Domestic rose production was down 40.8 percent from 2000 to 2004, standard carnation production fell a staggering 77.0 percent, Alstroemeria production was down 44.5 percent, and Gladiolus numbers were off 13.1 percent. However, Ms. Dillon says that California’s rose growers are finding niches with high-end and novelty varieties with new traits, such as fragrance, bold colors, etc., to remain competitive.
Florida is the United States’ second-most important cut flower and foliage growing state. The majority of Gladioli and many types of foliages are grown there. Unfortunately, in mid-2004, many of the state’s growers suffered losses due to a pair of devastating hurricanes. While Florida’s production numbers are down somewhat, the industry is expected to bounce back within the next year or two.

Colombia remains the dominant flower producer impacting U.S. cut flower supplies. Roses, carnations, spray chrysanthemums and Alstroemerias are among its top crops exported to the United States, and, in some cases, the numbers have increased rather dramatically. In the carnation, Alstroemeria and spray chrysanthemum categories, Colombia has established almost complete dominance, providing as much as 95 percent of the entire U.S. flower supply. (See chart at right for more details.)
Among its remaining crops, Colombia records few decreases from 2000 to 2004, but there were some, including Freesias and marguerite daisies. Exports of daisies to the United States have essentially ceased.
Although Colombian growers have begun growing some specialty crops to supply their increasing ready-made bouquet operations as well as exotic crops such as Heliconias and gingers, they will likely continue to focus on the product categories they already dominate.

Ecuador makes a close second to Colombia, but, except for roses, growers wisely carved out niches in products that aren’t dominated by its prolific neighbor. For 2004, Ecuador’s top crops on the U.S. market were roses, Delphiniums, asters, Gypsophila and mixed bouquets. But growers here also handle some specialty crops quite nicely, and Ecuador could come to dominate each of the categories in which its growers excel. Gypsophila is a case in point. In 2000, Ecuador exported 8.3 million bunches of baby’s breath to the United States; by 2004, that number had increased 153 percent, to 20.9 million bunches.

Because of freight expenses, only a limited selection of Holland’s vast wealth of cut flowers is available in the United States. Not surprisingly, tulips lead Holland’s U.S. exports and, in 2004, accounted for almost 95 percent of all U.S. tulip imports. While imports of Dutch roses have declined in recent years, they are the second-largest Dutch cut flower export to the United States.
Lilies, Gerberas and Freesias round out Holland’s top five U.S. exports, and snapdragons and Cymbidium orchids hold much promise. Dutch Cymbidiums accounted for nearly 44 percent of U.S. imports in 2004.

Recently, Canadian cut flower growers have begun tapping into the American market. Supplies, at this point, are relatively small, but given these growers’ proximity to America, they could soon increase.
In 2004, we imported a total of just 122,000 stems/bunches from Canada. But through early September 2005, we have imported a total of 4.8 million stems/bunches. Canada’s top supplies to the United States are roses, Gerberas and tulips. In the next few years, watch for bulb crops and other enticing materials from this country.

In 2000, Mexico’s top crops shipped to U.S. buyers were roses, standard carnations, Gladioli, Chamaedorea (palm) and leatherleaf. For 2004, Mexico’s shipments of roses and carnations diminished significantly (65.9 percent and 64.5 percent respectively) while supplies of leatherleaf, Gladioli and Delphiniums increased.
Mexico is coming to dominate certain U.S. imports. For example, in 2000, Mexico supplied just 23 percent of our marguerite daisy imports, but by the end of 2004, the country commanded some 97 percent. Mexico’s supplies of Gladioli also rose during those four years. Mexican growers are realizing the value of niche crops and should continue to make a strong showing in categories such as Delphiniums, lilies and callas.

In just four short years, this coastal country has increased its cut flower shipments from 93.2 million stems/bunches to 249.3 million—a 167-percent increase. Lilies, callas and Irises are important Costa Rican exports. This country will likely continue to develop its bulb flower crops and foliages.

Given the distances Chilean-grown product has to travel to reach our ports, competing with closer suppliers has been nearly impossible except in bulb products, which Chile grows during the off season. These growers continue to make strides with lilies, tulips, Delphiniums, Gerberas, Liatrises, Lisianthuses, mixed bouquets and more.

While extreme distances to the U.S. market limit the viability of many of the amazing flowers grown in these countries, growers do sell intriguing indigenous products in the United States, including foliages, waxflowers and other novelties, and they have recently begun supplying small amounts of orchids, Delphiniums, Lisianthuses, lilies and other traditional crops.

From Vietnam and Singapore to Kenya and Zimbabwe, the selection of crops from these continents has expanded tremendously, including Alstroemerias, asters, callas, Delphiniums, Freesias, Lisianthuses and more. The most abundant crop from these continents is orchids, most of which are supplied by Thailand. Its exports of orchid stems and blooms to America account for 90 percent of U.S. orchid imports. These numbers represent significant increases compared to those of 2000.

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