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The Flower Trade By Sophia Grojsman

Saturday, June 19, 2010

When you purchase cut flowers from your local florist, do you think about where they came from? Common sense might tell you that they were grown close by, because cut flowers can't survive a very long trip. The reality, though, is that your cut flowers might come from places like the Netherlands, Ecuador, or Kenya!
Flowers can now travel long distances thanks to air freight and high-tech cooling systems. Even the most delicate orchid can be shipped to arrive fresh in most places on Earth. This allows Americans, for example, to import some 70 percent of the cut flowers they buy.
The country that exports the most cut flowers is the Netherlands, which dominates the world cut-flower trade. There, seven auction houses handle about 60 percent of the world's cut-flower exports. Some auction houses are very large indeed -- Aalsmeer, near Amsterdam, is an auction house in the sense that Tokyo is a city or Everest a mountain. Its scale is daunting. About 120 soccer fields would fill its main hangar, which holds five auction halls. Nineteen million cut flowers are sold here on an average day.
The Netherlands is also a world leader in developing new flower varieties. Dutch companies and the government invest a considerable amount of money in flower research. Their scientists try to find ways to lengthen a flower's vase life. They also try to strengthen flowers to prevent them from being damaged while traveling on rough roads and to strengthen flowers' natural fragrance.
Despite Holland's dominance of the flower market, there are many places with a better climate for growing flowers, and the climate of Ecuador is almost perfect. Mauricio Davalos is the man responsible for starting Ecuador's flower industry some 20 years ago. "Our biggest edge is nature," he claims. "Our roses are the best in the world." With predictable rainy periods and 12 hours of sunlight each day, Ecuador's roses are renowned for their large heads and long stems. The flower industry has brought employment opportunities and a stronger economy to regions of the country. "My family has TV now. There are radios. Some people have remodeled their houses," says Yolanda Quishpe, 20, who picked roses for four years.
In recent years, local growers in Ecuador have faced growing competition from greenhouses built by major international companies. Despite this, Davalos feels that the world cut-flower trade is large enough to allow both high-tech international companies and smaller national growers to succeed -- at least for the time being.

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