It takes three days for Colombian flowers to reach the stores in the United States, where 82% of the annual production is exported. The key element of the process is the low temperature.
At two degrees centigrade and 30 thousand feet of altitude, more than 360 thousand flowers fly about 2,500 kilometers every day, from Bogotá to Miami. They come mainly from the crops of the savannah of Bogotá and are bound for large supermarkets and wholesale chains in the United States. A huge human team takes care of each one of the details that make the petals and stems the best gift. A bouquet is the result of six months of arduous sowing work, two to four weeks of production and three days of journey.
The most intense periods for flower exports take place for Saint Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, when the companies almost triple their turnover. In regular weeks for example, LAN Cargo is in charge of exporting around 900 tons of flowers, but for the Mother’s Day season it transported around 5,900 tons, which means 32% of the share in a market that reaches 18,400 tons, according to projections.
Elite Flower, the second largest exporter in Colombia, has approximately eight thousand workers, but for the Mother’s Day season its payroll increases to twelve thousand. The production that usually reaches 12 million stems per week reaches 70 million, almost sevenfold more during the Mother’s Day season.
Colombia has around seven thousand hectares cultivated with different types of crops such as roses, carnations, dahlias and chrysanthemums. The country has gained recognition in the continent because of the quality of its flowers. The stable weather, unlike other producing countries like Holland and Chile, is an advantage for the region. Ecuador is another Latin American country that supplies the US market. Amsterdam and Sydney are other destinations for Colombian flowers.
The process starts on land. The seeds are cultivated in greenhouses that keep them at low temperatures and protect them from rain and hail. Women represent 60% of the work force within the flower growing sector according to ASOCOLFLORES. They patiently water the stems and gently cut the flowers when they are ready.
The seeds of gerbera, which are generally imported from Holland, take around six months to start producing. These plants, which have a useful life of two years, yield at least one flower per week.
Roses, highly esteemed by the international market, are an exceptional case. The plant, which can live up to 15 years, yields only one flower per month. The most sought-after roses are pink and yellow, while red ones are the least wanted. Gerberas, dahlias and carnations are also commercialized in large amounts.
After being cut they are taken to a cold room (2 °C) and are classified by size, length, opening, stem thickness and head size. After a hydration process, the bouquets, already arranged according to the specifications of the clients, are packed in boxes and taken to the El Dorado international airport to be loaded on cargo or passenger planes.
Once they arrive to the airport of Miami, the flower boxes are distributed in 65% to supermarkets, 35% to electronic traders and the rest to wholesale dealers, who sell them to flower shops where they must remain in good condition for at least seven days.