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    Murphy urges consumers to buy domestic flowers, plants
    By Luther Turmelle, New Haven Register
    POSTED: 02/13/17, 9:29 PM EST | UPDATED: 5 HRS AGO 7 COMMENTS

    As consumers make their mad, last-minute scramble to honor their loved ones on Valentine’s Day, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is urging them to support flowers and plants grown domestically which will benefit the floral and horticulture industry at the state and national levels.

    That is not as easy as it might seems: Florists and other retailers that sell flowers and plants aren’t required to tell consumers whether what they are purchasing was imported. And, currently, 80 percent of the cut flowers sold by U.S. retailers are imported, according to Kasey Cronquist, chief executive officer of the California Cut Flower Commission, which is leading the “Buy American” effort.

    Murphy said Monday that he favors labeling that would tell consumers where their cut flowers and plants are coming from.

    “(Connecticut) garden centers, landscapers, perennial growers, and landscape designers employ 30,000 people; (but) the vast majority of cut flowers are imported from countries such as the Netherlands, Colombia, Ethiopia, Ecuador, India, South Africa, Australia, Thailand, Kenya, and Israel. “That’s despite the presence of over 60,000 floral businesses nationwide. The practice of relying on foreign growers not only disadvantages American farmers and businesses, but it is expensive and resource-intensive.”

    At the same time Murphy was urging consumers to Buy American when it comes to floral products, he was also urging U.S. Department of Agriculture Acting Deputy Secretary Michael Young to step up efforts to encourage the sale of domestically grown flowers and plants. Murphy sent a letter to Young on Monday, reminding him of the economic impact the floral and horticultural industry has on Connecticut and the nation.

    “I write to you today, as a new administration begins and farmers and greenhouse growers enter a busy Valentine’s Day season, to ask for your continued support of the American horticulture industry,” Murphy’s letter said in part. “In my home state of Connecticut, over 1,700 nurseries collectively gross more than $800 million annually for the farming, sale, and maintenance of fresh flowers and plants.

    Cronquist said the market share of imported fresh cut flowers became lopsided after a series of free trade agreements that the U.S government reached starting in 2011.

    “When our government started to eliminate duties to the Andean nations (in South America), we saw a quick shift,” he said. “The reason so many flowers are not grown here any more is the cost of production and shipping from overseas is cheaper than it is here.”

    The California trade group’s research shows that 74 percent of the consumers “have no idea that the flowers they are buying are being imported,” Cronquist said. The group’s research also found that if given the choice, 58 percent of consumers would prefer to buy flowers and plants grown locally.

    Sylvia Nichols, who manages the florist department at Cheshire Nursery, said 90 percent of the cut flowers sold at the business are from overseas, Nichols said she liked to sell more locally sourced flowers, but Cheshire Nursery’s suppliers import heavily,

    “I think its because some of the American companies have operations overseas,” she said.

    But a 2002 Society of American Florists report found that producers of cut flowers generally are not integrated with foreign firms and that there is little direct foreign ownership of U.S. cut flower firms.

    “Few U.S. cut flower producers operate abroad,” the report said in part. “One exception is a large (unidentified) U.S. multinational firm that … acquired 790 hectares of farms in cut flower production in Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico. The company owns its own aircraft service that transports flowers from locations in Latin America to its recently constructed, 328,000-square-foot processing, warehousing and shipping facility in Miami. This producer serves as grower, importer, marketer, and distributor.”

    Cronquist said California Cut Flower Commission launched a program in 2014 in which participating companies certified they were selling American-grown flowers. In addition, the group annually lobbies the congressional flower caucus in an effort to get legislation passed that is more friendly to American growers.

    “Flowers are one of the most profitable crops for small-acre farms,” he said. “As the movement for more locally sourced food has grown, so has the awareness of flower produced here in the United States.”

    Call Luther Turmelle at 203-680-9388.

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