Thursday, March 23, 2023

Colombian roses destined for holiday bouquets race against heat and time.

The path that leads from Colombia’s flower fields to a Miami Mother’s Day bouquet begins in Gerardo Diaz’s hands as he grafts a rose variety to a hardier stem. In about eight months, the bud will bloom in one of the sprawling greenhouses of the Flores Alianza farm on the outskirts of Bogotá and be ready for export.

Nearly 70 percent of the flowers bought in the United States are imported and 65 percent of the imports come from Colombia, where the conditions are ideal for growing flowers.

No matter where your mother lives, there’s a good chance that some flowers in her Mother’s Day basket had a stopover in Miami — the flower importing capital of the nation. Nearly 90 percent of all imported blooms that enter this country come to Miami International Airport and the local floral industry has been preparing for Mother’s Day for months:

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Extra flights must be booked, temporary workers and drivers hired, additional coolers and chilled warehouses rented, independent truckers contracted.

Two weeks before Mother’s Day — the second most important flower holiday after Valentine’s Day — the local industry begins cranking up. An avalanche of flowers, from velvety red Freedom roses to pink carnations and various colors of alstroemeria, begins to arrive.

The flower industry needs a strong Mother’s Day. It’s especially important in South Florida where the floral importing industry alone employs more than 6,100 people.

During the recession, business wilted — something of a surprise for flower importers who always looked at their product as an affordable luxury.

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“In the past we thought flowers were recession-proof. But this time it happened, they weren’t,’’ says R. Victor Giorgini, president and chief executive of Equiflor, a Doral importer that brings in the bulk of its flowers from Colombia and Ecuador.

“When people don’t feel confident, they don’t get married; they don’t plan events and that hurts the flower industry,’’ says Giorgini. “The industry is slowly coming back.’’

Equiflor’s revenue, which reached $38 million in 2008, plummeted in 2009 and 2010. After a restructuring, Equiflor is expecting revenue of $29 million this year.

The recession hasn’t been the only problem for Flores Alianza, a flower farm in Cajica that produces the Rio Roses brand for Equiflor. The farm churns out more than 1.3 million stems a month.

The weak dollar and strong Colombian peso have hit the business, and back-to-back years of unseasonably wet weather have led to production problems, says Juan Manuel Torres, the 42-acre farm’s general manager.

“This was a great business until 2004 — that’s when the peso started to appreciate,” he says, “and the global recession has been hard on us. People are more focused on buying food than buying flowers.”

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But Giorgini is optimistic. He says stateside wholesalers have prebooked flowers and he expects weddings and graduations to keep him busy through spring.

“The volume of Mother’s Day flowers is monstrous’’ he says. The warehouse goes on a 24-hour schedule during the 10 days before the holiday. The pace also picks up at Flores Alianza. Torres has added extra workers to keep the farm staffed 13-hour a day.

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