The Flower growing business in California is alive and well based on my experience at Fun n Sun 2017 held at the Park Hyatt Carlsbad Ca.
This lovely event takes place every two years somewhere in California and features the local growers and floral suppliers from the West coast.
After a wonderful Wednesday night opening party and dinner we were off early Thursday with 7 buses full of curious floral folks to visit three local farms. Dramm and Eckter, Mellano & Co and Kendall Farms.
Dramm and Echter; is the land of lillies and their farming practices are what you might expect to find at a California based grower. Many automated machines can be seen clicking and clanging like a fair calliope sans the music accompaniment, doing what used to be done by hand.
The Dutch footprint can be seen in many flower growing regions in the world and California is no different. We saw machines packing and stacking trays , sterilizing soil, and recycling everything. Taking full advantage of the fact that Lillies from South America are just not as robust as those grown here on the west coast. Not to mention that lillies are heavy, making shipping them from far away sources more expensive. California growers, of course, have had to change their mix of products over the last 15 years or more years to find these types of products that out perform their competitors for any number number of reasons.
Mellano & Co; This is where science meets dirt and plants head on. Like all growers water and labor (and Politicians) are a daily concern and Mellano has taken on these challenges by using science. Science has little affect on Politicians, but it surely has a bigger and bigger place in growing anything that comes out of the ground. We visitors were quite impressed with the level that they have taken this craft to, as we were shown the graphs and measurements that have allowed them to reduce water and labor consumption significantly while improving productivity.
They are able, using technology, to identify the perfect amount of water and nutrients that a plant needs for optimum production. The details are too involved to articulate here but I will share this one. They are measuring the moisture, temperature and salinity of the soil that surround the plants. Using sensors , blue tooth, cameras and probably some secret gadgets that they did not share with us, to make the plants do what the grower wants them to do and not the other way around.
They also have a GPS guided tractor that is able to prepare fields for planting much faster than using manpower. This is just one of the many innovations that have made them not only one of the survivors but, a force in the industry. Mellano has a full line of local and imported flowers.
Kendall Farms: From your first glance this would appear to be the last place one would want to build a flower farm. Hills, valleys and 1,000 fields to tend planted on them. Farming on flat land is hard enough but add in many steep hill sides and boulders the size of cars and one can understand why Safari sunset might cost more. We were told that a dozen men prepare the fields and another dozen harvest the crops. All of us floral tourist were sure that the men must be part mountain goat to manage the many vertical challenges. We were assured by Troy our guide that these men were not wearing capes and flying over the fields plucking stems as they pass over but just hard working folks that enjoy the work and pay.
They use every last inch of the land to plant crops like rosemary to line the driveways, making them easy to harvest while adding to the landscaping . Kendall farms grows, Waxflower, Protea, Leucadendron, and Sunflowers.
All three visits were complete with excellent informative tours given by the owners or managers with the addition of some very enthusiastic employees that were all quite proud of what they do and how they do it. A big shout out to Kendall Farms for a fantastic and welcomed lunch.
All three farms were growing some succulents and all three have some level of bouquet production.
In all we saw farms that are forced to conserve every drop of water, always with conservation social responsibility in mind. The growers here have many challenges and I suggest that imports are not one of the bigger issues that they need to worry about. When I hear about these challenges I am reminded of my many trips to Holland where one can see a large greenhouse run by four or five employees and a clever computer program. The Dutch did not make these large investments in technology because they wanted to. They were forced to by the lack of labor and rising cost.
Back to the resort and show.
If there was one buzz word that could be heard in and around it was “CANNABIS”. This once secret word was on everyone’s lips in one form or another. Some are for it and some are against it but no matter what you position is, the proverbial cat is out of the bag and I do not think there is any turning back now. There will be lots more to come regarding this subject so for now suffice to say, the sweet smell is in the air and don’t bogart that joint!
Friday began with some presentations that were surely worth attending. My favorite is always listening to J Schwanke from UBloom spin his tale of what we as a floral industry should be on the lookout for. J’s enthusiasm is a bit infectious and one must be impressed with his view and passion of the flower world. J is able to connect the trend dots better than most and his presentations are easy to digest.
BallSB’s Lourdes Reyes and Joaquin De La Torre talked about what they see from the breeders perspective. Since new flower varieties begin life in the labs of breeders, they are a good barometer for the health of the industry. They see things now as healthy after some difficult years and they are optimistic about the future. As I have have heard from other growers and now Ball, China is the place to watch. While China reportedly has the most floral production in the world they have not needed to import much. However, China does not have the climate to grow Ecuadorean or Colombian quality roses so growers who were once heavy into Russia are now brushing up on their Mandarin Chinese and learning how to make business in this strange land.
One of the beauties of these Fun n Sun events is the casual atmosphere that seems to come from a great venue and a not too intense schedule. I noticed a lack of east coast wholesalers in attendance which seems odd since nearly every east coast wholesaler is regularly buying California/West Coast products. Clearly this is a small show when compared to the national shows put on by HPP or IFE but just for that reason I feel these are more intimate and thus equally productive. I, like many floral show troopers find this show relaxing and not the hurried pace that you need to keep up at other shows.
I for one like that direction the Michael LoBue and the CalFlowers board of directors have taken Calflowers over the last few years focusing on selling flowers and providing a good platform for their members or better yet, as they say it.
“More Americans enjoying more flowers more often”
My video review complete with lots of pictures will be online as soon as I can get all the good stuff edited and loaded.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned to Flowersandcents.com for more!