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U.S.-grown roses poised for renaissance

Today, over 1.6 billion stems of roses are imported into the United States annually. That’s in stark contrast to our country’s domestic production at just over 30 million stems in 2013.

Over the past 20 years, there has certainly been a variety of reasons for this dramatic shift in where the supermajority of roses come from, and why they are now being flown into the United States. However, in my role as the chief executive officer and ambassador for the California Cut Flower Commission, I always appreciate the astonished reaction I get from people outside of our industry (the average consumer) when I explain over 98 percent of the roses sold in the United States are imported. They just can’t believe it.

To the layperson, flying a perishable flower from overseas may not seem possible, but importing roses from countries like Colombia, Ecuador and Kenya has become standard operating procedure for mass-market floral departments throughout the United States.

Despite this massive shift in outsourcing roses, California-grown roses still remain one of the state’s top five cut flower crops, with a wholesale value of more than $16 million. And while California has gone from over 150 cut rose farms in 1991 to 25 farms in 2013, I believe our remaining rose farms are in a strong strategic position going forward. Why?

The consumer’s standard operating procedure is changing. In the past three years, the slow food and farm-to-table movement has helped to raise more questions about the importing of perishables. Whether based on environmental, freshness or quality concerns, more consumers and retailers are looking at locally grown and origin-based branding to address and satisfy those general consumer questions.

The combination of this farm-to-table trend, and the rising costs of production and transportation for flowers imported from South America, is helping to create improved marketing opportunities for California rose farmers and their customers. Additionally, as more progressive mass-market retailers enter into full-service event design work and wedding services, offering U.S.-grown roses will be an increasing source of opportunity.

I believe California- and U.S.-grown roses are poised for a renaissance here in the United States. I also believe there is a great opportunity for mass-market retailers and bouquet makers to come alongside the remaining U.S. rose farms in such a way that they can profitably communicate their support and appreciation for the American rose farmer, while encouraging consumer appreciation, awareness — and purchasing — of what’s local.

Kasey Cronquist is the chief executive officer and ambassador of the California Cut Flower Commission. He can be contacted at kcronquist@ccfc.org.