3 Reasons Why Florists Should Beat Wal-Mart to Market

World's largest retailer plans investment in US-made goods over the next 10 years.

As a former Chamber of Commerce exec, I think I’ve pretty much heard all there is to say about Wal-Mart, the good, the bad and the ugly.  I’ve served in communities where there has been a Wal-Mart and where there has not, yet everyone seems to have an opinion on the global retailer.

Regardless of your feelings about Wal-Mart, last week’s announcement that the retail giant had pledged to increase its “Made in the USA” purchases by $50 billion over the next 10 years, certainly caught quite a few folks I know by surprise.

This announcement is certainly a noble goal that comes with serious consequences and challenges for any retailer in today’s “global marketplace,” let alone the largest.  I was recently looking to purchase an “Made in the USA” fleece vest and was told repeatedly, that I wouldn’t find one.   I still haven’t.  Maybe this noble decision will help bring fleece vest production back to the United States?

But was this a noble decision to bring those purchasing dollars back home, therefore increasing US manufacturing, or simply a PR play?

Why would an organization like Wal-Mart, the low price provider, feel compelled to commit to buying more local?

Because origin matters and American consumers are responding.  Here at the CCFC, we’ve seen evidence of this already, with the increase of bouquet’s labeled “CA Grown.”

So, if Wal-Mart is going local, how does this affect our flower industry?  Make no mistake, Wal-Mart is simply responding to capitalize on a growing trend among consumers.  I’m sure they’ve done their own market testing and their current scan data already supports their decision to make such a public announcement.  So, what about the flowers?

Time will tell if Wal-Mart’s “buy local” commitment translates to the flowers they purchase (the majority of which currently come from South America).  However, this news should inspire smaller floral companies, such as florists, event planners, floral designers and floral wholesalers, that have more flexibility in purchasing to beat the giant to market and promote their commitment to American Grown Flowers right away.

In a time when the floral market has remained flat, innovation has been stagnate and new marketing approaches are hard to come by, I would submit the following three reasons for you to beat Wal-Mart’s commitment to “Made in the U.S.A” in 2013:

  • Authenticity – People love farmers’ markets.  Why?  Because they are enjoying an authentic experience of buying directly from the farmer.  With the advent of social media, there is no reason why a florist, designer or retailer shouldn’t be recognized as an authentic source for bringing the “Farm to Table” relationship to their customers.  In fact, I’d argue that this kind of authenticity would provide you the kind of differentiation that would help drive sales.
  • Differentiation – If 80% of the flowers sold in the United States are imported, that means there is a huge amount of potential for florists, designers and retailers to be marketing against the status quo by selling something different, American Grown Flowers.  A local florist, selling locally grown flowers.  People would love to hear that and apparently they are willing to pay more for it.
  • “American Grown” is Effective Marketing – A study by the Boston Consulting Group recently found that “over 80% of Americans are willing to pay more for Made-in-USA products, 93% of whom say it’s because they want to keep jobs in the USA”

If you are a florist, floral designer or retailer and this is something that you’ve already committed to and are marketing your American Grown commitment, the California Cut Flower Commission would like to talk to you.  Please email me directly at kcronquist@ccfc.org.  If you are a flower lover or just a concerned citizen and this is something you’d like to learn more about and how one might go about sourcing American Grown Flowers, I’d be happy to provide some guidance.  Simply leave your question in the comments section below.

I would like to hear from you on this subject.  Please leave a comment below.

What challenges or consequences would you face by sourcing more American Grown flowers in 2013?

Are you seeing increasing demand for locally grown, Made in the USA, products in your community?

 

Want further sources of inspiration to make the commitment to American Grown?

Secretary Ross Responds

There certainly was an understood response by those in California agriculture when Yahoo published their blog post, “College Majors That Are Useless,” and listing Agriculture as the #1 most useless degree.

Between the blogging, the Facebook comments and the local media coverage, I’d say the article’s author Terence Loose got more than he bargained for after he hit “publish.”  I doubt he thought that this would be something that would catch the attention of CDFA Ag Secretary Karen Ross, but when it did, I think we all appreciated her weighing in on reality of Agriculture and its opportunities out here in California.

Secretary Ross’ blog post is re-posted here with permission:

Future is bullish for Ag graduates

My email in-box lit up last week after Yahoo! published a story claiming that college degrees in agriculture are useless.  It certainly is a counterintuitive statement. Across our country, farming is hotter than ever. Agricultural exports broke records in 2011, and demand for local production of food made available through farmers’ markets and other venues is an exciting trend that I firmly believe is here to stay.

The view from here shows a dramatic increase in farming-related job opportunities, and that’s much more than young people on the farm. There are roughly 300 different kinds of careers in the food industry. It takes a lot of hands to grow, package, distribute and serve food to hungry consumers here and around the world. Many of the available jobs are unfilled because, as technology advances, there is a corresponding need for science and technical educational programs. The foundation to meet that demand must be built at the high school level and then extended into colleges and universities. Some of our best minds are working right now to address this issue. Agriculture needs young minds now more than ever.

In the meantime, as the Washington Post reported recently, Ag graduates are finding jobs. The Post referenced a study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce showing that Ag graduates were among the most employable coming out of college.

So that Ag degree is very useful, and graduates will be highly sought-after well
into the future. Don’t let anybody tell you differently.

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Minding the Details of FTAs: Ambassador Kirk Visits with California’s Ag Leaders

Ambassador Ron Kirk explains his support for the pending trade agreements with Agriculture leaders during a roundtable discussion in Sacramento.  Seated from left are CDFA Secretary Karen Ross, Blue Diamond President & CEO Mark Jansen, and USTR's Chief Agricultural Negotiator Dr. Isi Siddiqui.

Ambassador Ron Kirk explains his support for the pending trade agreements with Agriculture leaders during a roundtable discussion in Sacramento. Seated from left are CDFA Secretary Karen Ross, Blue Diamond President & CEO Mark Jansen, and USTR's Chief Agricultural Negotiator Dr. Isi Siddiqui.

On Thursday I had the opportunity to join a group of leaders within California’s Agriculture community at Blue Diamond Growers headquarters in Sacramento for a roundtable discussion with United State’s Trade Representative (USTR) Ambassador Ron Kirk.  The Ambassador was in town to discuss the importance and need for the U.S. to pass the pending Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Panama and Korea.

While the Ambassador recognized that FTAs are seen as a “four letter word” to many people throughout the country, responsible for the loss of jobs and industries here at home, Kirk reiterated the need to push past these negative impressions and focus on the benefits.

Kirk acknowledged those of us in attendance as being adept to the benefits of such agreements, “more so than most,” and that he knew if he had to “sell” California on the benefits, “we’re (USTR) in trouble,” he said.

The Commission has been sensitive to the majority of California’s agriculture groups’ desire to see these agreements passed and has continued to remain unopposed to their passing.  However, I did have the opportunity to share with Ambassador Kirk the concerns our farms continue to have with the United States’ trade policy when it comes to Colombia.  After twenty years of negative impact due to increased flower imports, we believe now is the time for Congress and the Administration to mind the details of these permanent trade agreements to ensure that they are “fair” for everyone involved.  I was fortunate to have been joined by Elly Fairclough with Congressman Mike Thompson‘s office who was there to voice the Congressman’s support for our farms.

Our California flower farmers have lived through the negative impact that South American imports have had on the U.S. flower farms and have continued to adjust to try and remain competitive.  Yet, rather than wave the white flag at the sound of a permanent trade agreement with Colombia, they have, once again, developed a

Congressman Mike Thompson (CA-1) affirms his support for California's cut flower farms during a recent visit to Sun Valley Floral Farms in Arcata, CA.

Congressman Mike Thompson (CA-1) affirms his support for California's cut flower farms during a recent visit to Sun Valley Floral Farms in Arcata, CA.

mitigating remedy that they believe would begin to level the playing field.  Two independent studies, commissioned by the CCFC, have shown improved competitiveness through the reduction of costs when farms work together to consolidate their flower freight.  The Commission continues to seek federal resources to help implement this cooperative transportation system through the establishment of a shipping center that would consolidate California’s flower shipments throughout the state and country.

The Ambassador acknowledged that he was aware of our unique position of California’s cut flower farms related to this pending agreement with Colombia and said that his team had been and will continue to look into what could be done to address our concerns. Therefore, I remain optimistic.

I certainly agreed with the Ambassador when he said that “American Made” still means something to people.  I believe more American’s would buy more American Grown Flowers if they knew where their flowers came from and were given a choice, but if steps are not taken to address the inequalities of this current and future trade relationship with Colombia, I’m afraid Americans will continue to unknowingly lose their ability to choose.

Congressman Mike Thompson Calls for Support for America’s Flower Farmers

As the the finer points of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement continue to be debated by Congress, the real concerns of California’s flower farmers were raised by Congressman Mike Thompson (CA-1) during last Thursday’s Ways and Means Committee Meeting.

Highlighting the past, present and future playing field that American flower farmers face due to federal trade policy, Congressman Thompson proposed an amendment that would provide resources to help mitigate against further farm and job loss due to “low priced, subsidized cut flowers from Colombia.”

You can hear the Congressman personally describe his amendment in this video of the Ways and Means Committee hearing here:

Congressman Mike Thompson proposes an Amendment to support America's flower farmers.

Congressman Mike Thompson proposes an Amendment to support America's flower farmers.

California’s cut flower farmers are fortunate to have such a champion supporting fair competition prior to approving a Free Trade Agreement with Colombia.  On Thursday, following the hearing, I  provided an official media statement on behalf of the California Cut Flower Commission regarding the Congressman’s proposed amendment here:

“California cut flower farmers are very pleased that Congressman Thompson introduced an amendment today to provide one-time seed money for a new national transportation and logistics center for California and US cut flower shipments. This is further proof that Congressman Thompson is a leader on agricultural and trade issues for our entire state.” [read the rest of the statement here: CCFC Media Statement on Thompson Amendment]

We now look forward to working with Thompson’s staff and the Administration to identify how best to support a national transportation center for domestic cut flower growers that will enable them to better compete on a more level and fair playing field with  imported flowers.

Congressman Farr Voices His Support For California’s Flower Farmers

Congressman Sam Farr sharing his appreciation and support for California's flower farms.

Congressman Sam Farr sharing his appreciation and support for California's flower farms.

It has been a couple weeks since the Monterey Bay Greenhouse Open House was held, but we are still enjoying the positive momentum that is generated by these community events.  Managed by the California Cut Flower Commission, the 2nd Annual Monterey Bay Greenhouse Open House was a success by all measures and the positive feedback we have received through Facebook and our exit surveys from attendees have been inspiring .  The responses we’ve received have confirmed the value and appreciation people place on knowing what is growing locally.  We were also amazed by and appreciative of the level of support that we received during the ribbon cutting ceremony on the Friday before the actual Open House.  Elected officials and community leaders were all in attendance to help kick off this newly founded event that helps to connect the community with what is grown locally and encourages them to Know A California Farmer.

Congressman Sam Farr helped lead the ceremony and shared his appreciation for effort that the participating farms were making to open their doors and provide the public the opportunity to see what a beauty grows inside our local greenhouses.  Congressman Farr also shared his vision that through these types of events, the Pajaro Valley and the Salinas Valley would become famous for the flowers that are grown locally.

John Reyes of the Monterey County Visitors and Convention Bureau also shared his thoughts on the value agri-tourism can bring to the locally economy and that he was looking forward to having his organization working together with local farms to bring attention to these local attractions that people have a desire to visit and see.

I personally appreciated the efforts of our participating farms that committed to open their doors for this successful event.  This type of thing is a lot of work for a company that is otherwise not open to the public and preparing their property to handle so many people in one day is a feat to be sure!  It was also great to see that proceeds earned from the event went to selected community non-profits, such as the Santa Cruz Benefit Trust, Santa Cruz County State Parks and Peace of Mind Dog Rescue.

I also really appreciate the team I got to work with that was responsible for making the day happen.  Kathleen Williford served as the lead “cat herder” and event coordinator and Janice Wills Curtis backed her up all along the way.  It was fun to finally see the plans come together and watch all of the people see and enjoy what we seem to quickly take for granted in this business…the beauty of California Grown Flowers, America’s flowers.

The Monterey Bay Greenhouse Open House team pictured with Congressman Sam Farr.  Pictured left to right: Rep. Farr, me, Kathleen Williford and Janice Wills-Curtis

The Monterey Bay Greenhouse Open House team pictured with Congressman Sam Farr. Pictured left to right: Rep. Farr, me, Kathleen Williford and Janice Wills-Curtis

Forget the Food! What About the Flowers!

Flowers are the centerpiece for important meals across the country, why are they not also a central consideration when buying local?

Flowers are the centerpiece for important meals across the country, why are they not also a central consideration when buying local?

As the CEO/Ambassador of the California Cut Flower Commission, I’m surrounded by food marketing.

Surrounded.

Is it local?  Was it grown sustainably?  Is it good for you?  Recipes?  Healthy? How many calories?  Is it tasty?  Allergies?  Will I get sick…  and it goes on and on.

And I get it, we need food to live, but if people just took a fraction of their food focus to consider where their flowers come from, I believe the future of flower farming in the United States would be secured.

Why?

Here at the Commission we’ve learned through consumer studies that 85% of people do not know where their flowers come from.  This should not surprise anyone.  If the average consumer knew that the flowers they were buying for that special someone were grown in South American and flown in a 747 into Miami and trucked from there to their local florist or retailer, they would probably be making different flower choices.  In fact, I know they would.  Because in that same nationwide consumer study, we learned that 55% of people surveyed said they would choose California Grown Flowers if given the choice.  That is nationwide!  I would also suggest that if the question would have indicated that the only other choice they would likely be flowers flown in from South America, that 55% would actually grow considerably.

For all of the same reasons people are concerned about where their food comes from are also applicable to flower buying.  I don’t think there are many who would argue that California is not the most highly regulated state in the union.  Our farmers cultivate crops under the watchful eye of multiple federal, state and local agencies that include the United States Department of Food and Agriculture, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Department of Pesticide Regulation, California Air Resources Board, California Water Board, Regional Water Boards, Regional Sanitary Districts, Local Water districts, County and City governments, and more!  I could go on, but I think you get the point.

So, as we watch the interests of regional food sourcing and the dramatic increase in the popularity of farmers markets for fresh produce, don’t forget the flowers!  The future of the American flower farmer depends on it!

Counting the Costs: The Colombia FTA on America’s Flower Farmers

By Kasey Cronquist, IOM
CEO/Ambassador
California Cut Flower Commission

California's Flower Farmers Face Future Challenges with Colombia Free Trade Deal

California's Flower Farmers Face Future Challenges with Colombia Free Trade Deal

I have to say that the 4th of July is a favorite holiday of mine.  I love seeing all of the red, white and blue being proudly displayed throughout our neighborhoods, celebrating our country’s independence.  I also appreciate having that one-day a year where an exchange of fireworks across a lake is simply understood to be a friendly competition of who has more pride for our great country.

However, this 4th of July, all I can think about is flowers.

Now that’s not so strange when you realize that I serve as the CEO/Ambassador of the California Cut Flower Commission and that our Commission represents over 250 family owned flower farms in California and that collectively they have a $10.3 billion impact on our economy.  However, it is the pending free trade agreement with Colombia that seems to be overshadowing my ability to fully engage in this year’s 4th of July festivities.

Anticipating a trade agreement with Colombia, our farms have been working together over the past three years to develop a cooperative transportation system to help deliver more locally grown flowers to more people nationwide.  This cooperative shipping program is expected to reduce costs, increase efficiencies and improve quality controls that would help our farms better compete with the majority of flowers that are flown in from South America.

While the pending agreement with Colombia certainly provides economic opportunity for some U.S. industries, little has been done to account for the negative impact this agreement will have on other U.S. based companies.   I am not aware of any group of people or businesses that have been as negatively impacted by federal trade policy with Colombia than United States flower farmers.  Flower farms in the Northeast are all but extinct, evidence by the fact that California now represents 80% of what is grown domestically.  California’s super-majority market share position isn’t one that has been won on its own terms.  Instead, it’s a direct reflection of the dramatic impact imports from South America have had on the ability for U.S. flower farms to compete. This has left California the only state left standing after years of fierce competition from South American producers.    While California may grow 80% of what is grown domestically, it only represents approximately 20% of what is sold.  Today 80% of the flowers old in the United States have been imported, primarily from Colombia (approx. 70%), then Ecuador.  Combine that with the fact that 85% of people do not know where their flowers come from and you can start to see the kind of problem we have here.

So, as Congress continues to debate the merits of the pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Korea and Panama this week, I’m not confident that the negative impact that this trade deal with Colombia will have on our family flower farms in California is being carefully considered.  I can appreciate why someone like Senator Baucus wants to move this deal; it benefits his ranchers in Montana.  However, I don’t believe that there is any one person that is adding up the positives and negatives of such a deal for the United States businesses and that has a complete understanding of what will be gained and lost in an agreement with Colombia.  Instead, it appears that no one person is really “at the switch” and farms, like ours in California, may just be the collateral damage that is created by a rush to “free trade” judgment.

While we may call these agreements “free,” they certainly are not “fair.”  With $210 million in direct Colombian government subsidies between 2005-2009, millions more in US taxpayer money through Plan Colombia an USAID, lower labor costs and far fewer environmental regulations or oversight, the future deal with Colombia is far from free or fair to our U.S. flower farmers.  If passed without mitigating efforts, the unfortunate consequence of such a deal with Colombia, will be that my fellow Americans across the country will continue to unwittingly be buying more and more imported flowers, thereby pushing our domestic family flower farms out of business.

A Message from California's Flower Farmers

VIDEO: A Message from California's Flower Farmers

In addition to all of the many reason why we celebrate on the 4th of July, I want to also celebrate a country that I know has counted its costs when it comes to establishing its trade agreements and carefully accounts for all those who will be impacted.  This may in fact need to more closely resemble a nationalists trade policy approach.  Regardless, I believe it is critically important to support of our own agriculture and manufacturing sectors in order for our country to preserve the independence that we celebrate today.  I also believe that a new transportation system for shipping our California Grown flowers to be an example of such strategic support and a reasonable economic development opportunity to help balance the impact of federal trade policy.

However, this year, I have a feeling that when the fireworks start to light up the sky, I will still be thinking about flowers.

Congresswoman Capps: Focusing on our Flower Farmers

Screen shot 2011-06-22 at 2.02.42 PMI have to say, after watching this news clip a few time, I can’t help but wish more people could have heard and seen this report from KEYT news.  It captures a lot; highlighting the intense pressures from imported flowers, our transportation effort and even highlighting the hope of having a 100% CA Grown float in the Rose Parade.

I certainly appreciate the effort that Congresswoman Capps has made to help bring attention to the plight of our California flower farms.  She has been a true champion in Washington DC for our farms, helping to encourage her colleagues to understand the issues facing domestic flower farmers and support to support them.

Because we don’t eat flowers, people don’t give them the same attention as they do their food.  However, I believe (and research shows) that more people would support our farms if they were given the choice.

Do the flowers you buy come from one of our California flower farms?  I hope so, it makes a difference.

Where do your roses come from? Probably further than you think.

SuperFloral Retailing article: U.S. Flower Supply: Not a Rosy Picture

SuperFloral Retailing article: U.S. Flower Supply: Not a Rosy Picture

California Grown Flowers are America’s Flowers.

A recent report from SuperFloral Retailing magazine published the latest data available on the supply of flowers grown in the U.S. titled, “U.S. Flower Supply: Not a Rosy Picture.”  However, for U.S. rose farmers, the picture hasn’t been “rosy” for some time.  In fact, you would have to go back to 1991 to see statistics where U.S. rose farmers enjoyed the majority of market share and consumers had access to more of a regional rose production.  It was in 1991 that United States enacted the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) which provided Andean nations like Colombia and Ecuador the business incentive of “duty free” access to the United States flower market.  The purpose for this access was to cultivate legal crop production and shift the region’s dependence from drug production and trafficking.

While the actual results of this trade policy’s purpose to reduce illegal drug cultivation continues to be debated, what is not debatable is the negative impact flower imports from these countries have had on domestic flower farmers.  While U.S. rose farmers enjoyed a majority of the marketshare in 1991, their share was quickly eclipsed in the following years once the “duty free” access was granted by the ATPA.   Rose farms have continued to lose ground every year since and today make up less than 3% of all roses sold.  According to United States Department of Agriculture only 29 rose growers remain, which reflects a loss of 60 rose farms in just under ten years time.You can find these farms on the California Cut Flower Commission’s website’s grower and flower directories: California Farm Directory.

The good news is that California continues to be home to a handful of family farms still committed to growing America’s best source for high quality roses and maintaining a domestic supply of roses for people committed to “buying local.”

The Rose Race.  A visual graph representing the loss of local roses grown in the United States.
The Rose Race. A visual graph representing the loss of local roses grown in the United States.

It should be noted that this experience by California’s rose farmers is not unique.  U.S. trade policy has had a real and adverse affect on domestic flower farmers regardless of the variety they grow.  Cheaper imports continue to make domestic flower farming extremely difficult and as a result it is increasingly difficult for people to have access to a local supply of fresh cut flowers.  Recently many of California’s cut flower farms have begun to label their flowers “CA Grown” to help people identify where their flowers were grown.  This program has been well received by retailers and consumers alike.  However, while it helps to highlight the origin of the flowers, it is not able to explain that California represent almost 80% of all domestically grown flowers and really represents America’s choice for “locally grown” when compared to the amount of flowers imported and sold in the U.S.  The value of flower imports since the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) has risen 166%, while the domestic value over that same time period has fallen 20%.  California farms continue to strive to stay ahead, often cultivating new crops that are difficult for other countries to import, but some farms have given up, sold their farms or just stopped growing.

The current “Buy Local” movement and proclivity of consumers to want to support local business is something that California’s flower farmers hope to see transcend into flower buying habits.  Requirements by certified farmers markets help to ensure that people are getting what they are seeing, fresh local flowers.  However, local farms that grow fresh cut flowers are limited to only a handful of states and it take a dedicated and discerning person to walk into the average florist or retail shop and know they are walking out with America’s local source for high quality flowers . . . California Grown Flowers.

Tips on “Buying Local” Flowers:

  • Ask.  If its difficult to tell where your retailer or florists’ flowers are from, simply ask them.  They will be impressed by your flower  knowledge and discernment.
  • Look for the “CA Grown” label when you shop
  • Look for any label of origin
  • Visit ccfc.org to see what flower varieties California offers and when they are in season

Watch the Fox Business News interview (below) with California flower farmers Erik Van Wingerden and Rene Van Wingerden regarding the impact of imports on domestic flower farms.

California Rose Farmer Erik VanWingerden is interviewed by Fox Business News' Elk Worner.

California Rose Farmer Erik VanWingerden is interviewed by Fox Business News’ Elk Worner.


we’re not ready: it can get worse

“First, let me underscore President Obama’s and my commitment to the Free Trade Agreement,” she [Secretary Hillary Clinton] told RCN Television. “We are going to continue to work to obtain the votes in the Congress to be able to pass it. We think it’s strongly in the interests of both Colombia and the United States. And I return very invigorated … to begin a very intensive effort to try to obtain the votes to get the Free Trade Agreement finally ratified.” – Investors.com 6/11/2010

ITC Badge

The CCFC will be testifying on behalf of California's flower farms during the International Trade Commision's hearing in July in Washington DC.

Consider all cut flower farms of California warned, the Obama Administration has recently turned up its public commitment and intent to pass the pending Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CFTA, aka Colombian Trade Promotion Agreement or CTPA).  Secretary Clinton’s comments during her recent trip to Bogota, Colombia eliminates any doubt one might have had about where the Administration stood on the pending CFTA.  I was in Washington DC in April of 2008 when President Bush pushed the Colombia FTA to Congress and urged them to pass the Agreement prior to his leaving office.  At that time, Democrats cried foul, claiming that Colombia wasn’t ready, Congress wasn’t ready, the language in the pact wasn’t ready. . .until now.

Well guess what: California cut flower farmers are still not ready.

Over the past two years the California Cut Flower Commission (CCFC) has been working hard in Washington DC to help highlight the extremely negative impacts that the current Andean Trade Preferences and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) has had on the California flower farmer.  By design, the CCFC’s focus is on California, but the same negative impacts over the past 20 years have been true for fellow flower farmers from across the country.  However, at this time, there are very few flower farms left outside of California that could unite to voice their frustration for this new trade agreement.  The CCFC is left to not only represent the voice of the California flower farmer, but the voice of all of those flower farms who are still striving to compete against the daily onslaught of flowers that are flown in from South America duty free due to the ATPDEA.

Prior to the ATPDEA‘s inception in 1991, U.S. farms enjoyed approximately 64% of the domestic market-share.  The remaining market included other import growing regions such as South America.  Fast-forward to today, South American flower farms enjoy approximately 80% of the market, while California serves less than 20%.  Over the past 20 years, California has seen generations of flower farms close their doors, give up and sell out due to the import pressures generated by the passing of the ATPDEA.  A tremendous amount of intellectual and physical properties have been lost to these imports.  That trend continues today.  South American countries, like Colombia, aren’t becoming less competitive with US legislation, they are becoming more competitive.  Passing a permanent free trade agreement with Colombia would simply compound the problems we see today.

A 2006 report by the United States Department of Labor stated that ATPDEA does not appear to have had a negative impact on US employment with the possible exception of some sectors of the cut flower industry.[15]Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andean_Trade_Promotion_and_Drug_Eradication_Act

Today’s California flower farms are certainly not the one’s from 20 years ago.  Flower farmers today have to be extremely creative, resourceful and careful to just stay in business.  They are constantly innovating, because they can’t expect that the flowers they are planting today aren’t going to be the same flowers that Colombia has on a plane destined for Miami tomorrow.  They have to stay ahead, the have to be smart and they have to avoid going head to head with import competition, because, while the access maybe “free,” the marketplace is certainly not “fair.”  California flower farms constantly strive for sustainable and conservative growing practice due to the natural and political stress on natural resources in California.  California’s flower farmers were striving for agriculture conservation far before “sustainability” became the buzz word of the day.  Flower farms in California grow in the most regulated state in the Union and face some of the strictest growing requirements, with direct supervision from the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the Department of Pesticide Regulation.  Strict pesticide regulation and controls, invasive species quarantines, agriculture permits and water restrictions are all just the day and the life of trying to grow a flower in California.  When compared to import growing costs and requirements, the playing field is simply not fair.

Significant effort continues to be made by California flower farmers to help level this playing field.   A major cooperative effort to improve floral transportation in and out of California has been underway for the past two years.  Due to the low volumes of flowers and decreased flower farms, farmers are currently developing a plan to reduce transportation costs by combining their individual flower shipments to fill more trucks.  This type of approach will not only serve to reduce costs, but it will improve flower quality, increase reliability, eliminate unnecessary duplicity while getting more California grown flowers to more people everywhere and in a more environmentally friendly method.

The California Cut Flower Commission has yet to take an official position against the pending Colombia Free Trade Agreement while we continue to work with lawmakers and administration officials to highlight the extremely negative and unfair impacts the current trade agreement (the ATPDEA) has had on domestic flower farms over the past 20 years.  Fortunately or unfortunately we have the example in the results of the ATPDEA to help show what duty free access has meant to these countries and adversely how they have impacted the ability for consumers to enjoy a more locally grown flower.

The “change” that a permanent free trade agreement would bring to this industry would simply exasperate the current trajectory of negative impacts that California’s flower farms have faced.  A permanent agreement would help encourage those international flower farm investors (note that Clinton’s quote above was taken from Investors.com), who have otherwise been dismayed by the annual review of the current ATPDEA, to finally invest their capital with the security of knowing that the access is permanently duty free.  A Colombia Free Trade Agreement, without mitigating the past, current and future impacts under regulated imports have on domestic flower farming, would simply be a nail in the coffin for the domestic cut flower farmer.