Post Irma Recap, Oct 2017

The weather in the southern part of the United States has wreaked havoc with the floral industry.  Miami is the main portal of flowers into this country.  When Miami gets shut down, as it was during the recent hurricane that swept thru Florida, the flow of flowers from Colombia and Ecuador to the United States stops.

These are the after-effects we have seen from the viewpoint of a wholesaler:

South America: There was three or four days there, where nobody in South America could get floral product to the US.  Yes there were flights into NYC and Houston, and probably some other cities like Atlanta and St Louis, but that was a trickle compared to what usually comes in thru Miami.  In Las Vegas, the wholesalers there chartered an entire plane to bring in their flowers.  I guess gambling isn’t the only thing they’re good at!  So many of these flowers in S.A that could not get air-space on limited flights were dumped.  Growers took a large hit on their profit/loss statement.  That means over the next year, they are going to do their best to make up those losses, through higher prices.  Another little known fact is that after Irma swept thru, all the hotel rooms in Miami were filled.  Airlines that need a place for a pilot to sleep after he/she has flown the maximum amount of hours he or she was allowed, could not find rooms for these pilots.  So consequently, they cancelled flights.  So even though the hurricane was over, the lack of hotel rooms constricted airspace on all the available flights which consequently affected our floral industry.  Also, there are lots of fruits and other products that were vying for the available cargo airspace with flowers.  Sometimes fruit would win and sometimes they wouldn’t.  Regardless, this was still less airspace for flowers.  Wholesalers like us were put in a quandary.  We could buy heavier from California, but then if the Miami portal opened up sooner than we thought, our coolers would be overloaded with flowers.  Our buyers had to make a lot of key decisions in the run-up to hurricane Irma, and we had no way of knowing that something as innocuous as booked up hotel rooms in Miami would have a trickledown effect on our airspace.

Florida:  All the leather-leaf growers in FLA took a major hit from 2016’s Hurricane Matthew.  Their netting and sprinkler systems over hundreds of acres were ruined.  They had large losses, and the state government of FLA took emergency actions and allowed the leather leaf growers to band together and raise prices.  They were given an anti-trust exemption.  Our company was forced to raise prices as a result of higher increases in 2016.  Now fast forward to 2017, and Hurricane Irma.  Those same leather leaf growers, who had all poured tons of money into fixing their netting/sprinklers, had them all destroyed again 12 months later by Irma.  So once again leather leaf prices are rising.  Some leather leaf producers may actually go out of business.  Our company after being hit in the head twice is looking into alternate sources of leather leaf, since FLA is so fragile right now.  Stay tuned for more information on that.

Air Freight Rates:  The airlines took advantage of the hurricane and raised rates on airspace, and those rates have not come down even though we are almost a good three weeks past Irma.  Our cut flower buyers tell us that these high rates will most likely remain in place thru January.  Then they may drop only to rise again with V-Day surcharges that airlines tack on.  Our company had some pretty dramatic clashes with the airlines, as we attempted to fly boxes into Kennedy airport in the days after Irma.  Those air freight terminals were manned by nasty employees, and they also wanted certified checks, credit cards were not accepted.  Get this, at 12:00 Noon, they all break for a 1 hour lunch.  There is no staggering of the lunches, so the entire airfreight cargo pick-up terminal would shut down for an entire hour.  Can you imagine going to the grocery store, and being told your cc # is no good, you must run to the bank and get a certified check?  Can you imagine being in line with your groceries and being told, that all the check-out employees are going on a 1 hour break, and you have to stand there and wait an hour?  Well this is what happened to Hillcrest Garden.  We sent drivers over two separate days to four terminals and we experienced all this bad customer service from all four of the airlines that flew our flowers north.  We were on the phone, yelling cajoling, begging for hours to no avail.

Tractor Trailer Transportation: After seeing images of Houston based tractor trailers stuck in 10 foot high water during Harvey on CNN, I am sure that every tractor trailer company in Florida wanted nothing to do with Irma.  We actually use two trucking firms to ship our flowers north from Miami to Paramus.  One trucker stopped shipping 4 days before Irma and had all their trucks flee the state.  With tractor trailers costing so much money, who could blame them?  Hillcrest Garden’s other trucking firm stayed the course and kept shipping product, taking a big risk.  We were impressed!  For there were several days there, we would have had no shipments if this trucking firm had not kept hauling.  We are eternally grateful for that.

Proflora 2017: Our cut flower buyers are currently in Colombia attending this flower trade show.  All the attendees are thinking the same thing as we are, how can we make air freight into Miami less of a crutch, after what we went through with Irma?  There are ocean freight containers (flowers kept at 32 degrees) that will ship flowers from northern ports in Colombia into Miami.  This is one way around the airlines.  It will force buyers into more lead time, since the ocean freight takes a few days longer that the planes.  We will keep you posted on this new travel process.