By Steve Scauzillo, San Gabriel Valley Tribune
POSTED: 12/11/15, 11:09 AM PST | UPDATED: 10 HRS AGO 0 COMMENTS
Workers sort flowers in a cold room at The SunValley Group growers in Oxnard, CA. The company will provide about 100,000 flowers to the Rose Parade this year. (Photo by David Crane/Los Angeles News Group)
On New Year’s Day, only four floats will glide down Colorado Boulevard during the Rose Parade that contain at least 85 percent California-grown flowers, and that’s double the number from last year.
But it hasn’t been four years of severe drought that has withered reliance on California-grown flowers for Rose Parade floats.
That can be blamed on the global economy.
Simply put, float builders source everything from roses to orchids from growers across the globe. More than 80 percent of the 2016 Rose Parade float flowers were purchased from international farms in Colombia, Ecuador and the countries of Southeast Asia, said executives from several float builders.
Just like steel or smartphones, float companies buy their products from international manufacturers. Overseas, all kinds of flowers are cultivated using cheap labor and sold for much less than if purchased from farmers within the United States, even after accounting for the price of shipping.
“We get 90 percent of our roses from outside of California. It has been that way for 15 years,” explained Tim Estes, president of Fiesta Parade Floats, a company building 11 floats for the 2016 Rose Parade in Pasadena on Jan. 1.
Estes says don’t blame the water shortages plaguing Golden State farmers these past four years for the lack of home-grown petals. It’s more likely that California farmers selling land to developers has cut back on flower production over the decades.
“California has been in this drought for a number of years. It has had zero impact on us,” Estes said.
When Estes needed 40,000 roses of a certain color and variety, he turned to flower growers in Colombia to place his order.
Likewise, Chris Lofthouse, president and CEO of Phoenix Decorating Co., said: “Flowers for our floats have not been affected (by the drought) because we receive flowers from all over the world. A lot of our flowers are from international sources.”
His company, which is building 21 floats, sees the buying and selling of cut flowers as a function of the global marketplace.
But with new growing techniques and active marketing, California growers are no longer just watching the parade pass them by.
Kasey Cronquist, CEO and ambassador of a trade group called the California Cut Flower Commission based in Santa Barbara, has been working on raising the profile of the California hothouse flower, both in the Rose Parade and in stores, for almost a decade.
This year, the four floats that will have at least 85 percent of their flowers from local growers are sponsored by the Cal Poly Universities, Miracle-Gro, the California Milk Advisory Board and FTD.
Flower grower Bill Prescott of Sun Valley Floral Farms in Arcata and Oxnard says there’s something, well, not very American about the Jan. 1 parade with four out of every five flowers grown outside the United States. “It has changed what the Rose Parade is about — it doesn’t have that focus on California agriculture.”
Cronquist said California farmers from Humboldt to San Diego counties are using water-stingy methods and advanced hothouse techniques. Hydroponics, for example, inject water into plants like medicine delivered through an IV. Any water not taken up during photosynthesis is captured, sterilized and re-used, he said.
“The drought hasn’t had an impact on the growing production as one might expect because we are so good about preparing for situations like these,” he said.
Janetta McDowell, interim director for the Rose Parade float at Cal Poly Pomona, said she has not had difficulty obtaining flowers from California farmers. “It’s weird. I would think the drought would affect the farmers because it is affecting consumers,” she said. “But we’ve had no problems.”
More than 24 farmers will be selling or contributing flowers — from Gerbera daisies to larkspur and birds of paradise — to decorate these four floats as well as some VIP vehicles and equestrian units in the next few weeks, Cronquist said.
Prescott said that of the 20 percent of Rose Parade float flowers grown in the U.S., about 75 percent come from California. “Because California has so many different climates and ecosystems, we have a huge variety of flowers that can be grown.” Prescott said.
Featuring locally grown products harkens back to the spirit of the first Rose Parade of 1890, Cronquist said.
“This parade was founded on the idea of reflecting on the bounty of California,” he said. “The parade is not about business; it is about our state and celebrating the things from it, in order to ring in the new year.”