Meeting in Miami to Gain Research Ideas 1/16/17
Recently I had the opportunity to meet with members of the American Floral Endowment in Miami Fla. The endowment (known by the acronym AFE) collects donations from floral industry campanies/people and uses the money to fund research into floral related issues (like botrytis as an example) and also to fund business studies (such as the recent Funeral Directors Study, which is available for download through a link on the bottom of our home page). The Endowment also funds scholarships for college students who are entering the fields of floral and greenhouse management. As part of our Trustee Meetings in Miami, we set up a meeting with Miami brokers. On Monday, Jan 16th 2017 we convened in a conference room of a Miami Marriott airport hotel and discussed topics that this sector of the industry wanted the endowment to focus on and also where to spend research dollars. Here are some key points discussed at this meeting that may be of interest to you. The yellow-colored text areas below are meant to highlight what the attendees at this meeting want AFE to do.
Botrytis – The growers and brokers that were in the room agreed that this is the number one problem affecting the quality of flowers. Botrytis is kept in check by certain chemical treatments, but it is becoming more and more resistant. This is a scary, scary issue. AFE currently has a major study funded at Clemson University to address Botrytis concerns. One of the research experts on the AFE Board, Dr. Terril Nell, mentioned at the meeting that botrytis spores can live for a year in your refrigerator. So keeping the floors and walls and shelves clean of dust in your shop’s refrigerator is a must.
Growing Conditions – Many of you may know this already, but one of the great aspects of the Colombian floral industry is the mild weather (especially at night) helps the rose stems grow very thick. Consumers and retail florists have grown accustomed to the thick stems that roses now have, and we could never go back to the thin stemmed roses that used to be grown in the US back in the 70’s and 80’s. Some of the growers in attendance at our AFE meeting mentioned that global warming has created a situation where there are less of these cool periods that are so important to stem thickness. One grower mentioned how when it rained in Colombia it was always very cool during and after the rain event. Now when it rains it still remains warm or hot. This is not good for the floral business. Temperatures heating up in Ecuador and Colombia will not help flower production, especially as it relates to roses.
Packing Density – Less and less big screen TVs and other consumables are traveling south to South America from the US. Consequently there are less planes traveling north (on the backhaul) to the US from South America. This has squeezed available freight space for flowers and forced airlines to raise rates. Flower prices have inched up and wholesalers are now scrambling to cover these higher costs. All this has motivated creative growers to try and increase packing density in the boxes. Putting so many flowers in tight spaces can create moist warm areas where bacteria can grow and fester. Attendees at the AFE meeting charged AFE with putting research dollars into discovering whether increased packing density is causing more botrytis.
Box Standards – If our industry was smart, every grower in California and in South America would all agree to use a standardized cardboard box size. That way, you could design a box that would fit perfectly on a pallet which is usually 48” by 40”. Unfortunately, in the flower business, you have thousands of growers worldwide using hundreds of different box sizes. You have situations where a box is too long and it hangs over the edge of the pallet and when weight is piled on top of it it bends and the flowers inside the box get crushed. By the same token, if a box is too short, you have a situation where a wholesaler is paying for freight space on that pallet, but there may be cubic feet of airspace not utilized. At various times over the last few years, wholesalers have told growers to change their box sizes to something that will fit more efficiently on the standard 48” x 40” pallet. The wholesaler is usually met with this response “You’re not going to tell me what size box I should use. I like the size box I use and I am not changing it.” Then there are some wholesalers that are very large, and have a lot of clout. They have stopped buying from a particular farm due to stubbornness about changing their box size to a standard size. Most wholesalers don’t have enough clout to convince farms to change their box sizes. The attendees at the AFE meeting implored AFE to dive into this box size discussion and try and move the needle. Everyone in the industry will benefit. The wholesaler trade association, WF&FSA, has made box sizes a major initiative for the coming years. We believe that eventually our industry will get to standardized box sizes someday.