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Florida greens growers predict Valentine’s Day leatherleaf shortage

Florida greens farmers are putting out a message to the floral industry: Two major hurricanes in the span of 11 months has been too much for the farms to bear, according to a news release.

As the growers hustle to mitigate damage, and protect current and future product, retail florists should expect a very tight supply of leatherleaf for Valentine’s Day.

“Leatherleaf supplies are at their lowest levels in 30 years,” said Jana Register, director of sales and marketing at FernTrust in Seville, FL. “We haven’t seen supply this tight since 1985, when we experienced a freeze just before Valentine’s Day.”

HURRICANE-DAMAGEA Florida saran house suffered major damage from the winds of Hurricane Irma, which also destroyed the leatherleaf inside.Growers in Florida were first hit hard by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, but they received another wallop this fall from Hurricane Irma. According to the Floral Greens Farmers of Florida, an industry cooperative formed after Hurricane Matthew, some farms saw 60 to 70 percent damage from Irma.

Compounding the problem: Efforts to repair the saran structures that protect the ferns are something of a “necessary evil,” Register said. “We have to repair them for future production, but every time we go out to do so, we’re trampling across plants. We’re damaging product now to save it in the future.”

Growers are also struggling with a labor shortage and higher costs associated with holiday shipping.

While some wholesalers can source leatherleaf from other countries, offshore supplies are less plentiful than they were a decade ago and offshore sources can’t fill in the gap this year, according to the Florida growers — a fact several wholesalers confirmed.

For these reasons, the Floral Greens Farmers of Florida group is working to spread the word to the industry, telling customers not only that leatherleaf supply will be tight but that, in some instances, the grading on available product may be rougher than usual.

“It will still impress customers, but we know it isn’t perfect, and we are asking customers to understand why that’s happening,” said Register.

Growers have been tightly managing inventory to save up supply for Valentine’s Day and they’re pointing customers to possible alternatives, such as tree fern and green and variegated pittosporum, which are plentiful.

However, growers concede such replacements don’t deliver the same volume-to-cost ratio of leatherleaf.

“A lot of things that are beyond our control have gone wrong in the past year,” Register said.

“We’re asking people to be patient as we recover,” she added.