The floral industry is unfortunately not immune to unprecedented challenges that have arisen with the global impact of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and climate change.
At Florists Supply, and other flower importers, current growing conditions in South America have impacted our fresh cut flower inventory. I felt it was important to share with you some difficult present-day realities we are facing to source our everyday products.
We primarily import out of three South American cities: Bogota and Medellin in Colombia, and Quito, Ecuador. All three growing regions supply about 55% of our weekly fresh cut flowers. These regions have an optimal climate for growing various products such as Roses, Carnations, Chrysanthemums, Alstroemeria, and Hydrangeas, to name a few.
We’ve polled several of our partnering farms in these areas who are all experiencing challenges at varying levels with staffing, timelines of production, and logistical issues.
In Colombia, some Medellin growers saw a drop in sales as high as 90% at the start of the crisis, while others currently report an overall drop of about 45% compared to 2019. A few Bogota partners we spoke with had reduced staffing and encouraged early vacation usage to avoid layoffs. Most farms are running at reduced staff in the fields, and in administration. Almost all we spoke with have reduced salaries and working hours. Colombia remains in quarantine, and has special permits in place for the floral industry to continue working. Like Colombia, Ecuador also has special permits in place to allow the floral sector to operate, and continue with transportation.
In both Colombia and Ecuador, we’ve seen Rose production hit the hardest during this crisis. At the farm level, March is typically one of the lowest production months after Valentine’s Day and International Women’s Day demands ship out. When the crisis began, staffing and procedures were reduced rapidly, and the growing areas could not be managed effectively. We are now seeing the result of this in June. Many stems have been lost due to the sharp decline in sales, and forced farms to reconsider their overall management of the Rose crops for the rest of the year. Our partnering farms have also shared with us that they’ve never experienced a decline in production this great in over 10 years, or in their existence of operation.
Variety changes or crop revitalization are typically done later in the year; many farms chose to make those changes during the lapse in sales. It was an ideal time to make those decisions while demand was low. Greenhouses are cleared of current plants, and specialized staff are assigned to renew plantings when this occurs.
Pesticides and fertilizer have also become difficult to import due to logistical challenges and stricter import regulations at the start of the crisis. Crops not being given the care they normally would further complicates what we are seeing now.
Lastly, airline logistical issues with less southbound cargo being imported into those counties means less space to export flowers out. This has caused delays and bottlenecks in the system creating more time and stress on the already compromised flowers.
In addition to COVID-related challenges, weather is increasingly unpredictable as new patterns related to climate change evolve. Year-over-year, climate change is evidentally impacting growing cycles. Colombia and Ecuador are facing abnormally colder nights, and a lot more rain, which can increase likeliness for diseased crops, and slow down the production.
As a result of these challenges, our variety selection may be limited at times during the rest of the summer. Some popular Rose varieties may not be in full production until Autumn, while we are seeing some return of other items like carnations and chrysanthemum.
In the meantime, we will be working hard to find the best possible substitutions while retaining our quality standards. We encourage you to pre-book in advance as early as possible for any special orders to allow us enough time to find the best blooms possible. We continue to purchase from various local growers, along with farms in other regions, to keep our inventory breadth as wide as possible. I am looking forward to Autumn where we should see a return of wider availability, and hopefully a return of normalcy along with increased demand for flowers!
Thank you for your understanding while we navigate through these challenges.
Florists Supply Director of Cut Flower Operations