The cultivation of cut flowers isn’t big in Canada. It’s difficult to compete with the imports from Ecuador and Colombia. So, Canadian growers have to distinguish themselves with flowers that are difficult to grow or to transport.
Until today we had seen lots of potted plants and tulips. The latter was what we got to see at Sun Valley, Spring Valley and Westbrook. And we saw tulips at the auction as well.
General manager Ben Vellekoop told us that buyers always kept an eye on the prices in the Netherlands, they would never pay more than 3 cents extra, compared with the Dutch buyers. The auction clocks in the Netherlands set the price. But this isn’t true for flowers that are sold through other channels than the clock. From what we could gather, those prices are quite a bit higher.
There’s quite a lot of tulip forcing in Ontario. That’s something the South Americans can’t do. But some other products were completely wiped out in Canada, because of the competition from Colombia and Ecuador. Rose is one of them. There are hardly any rose growers left here. We know of one, and he’s based on Vancouver Island, on the other side of Canada.
Otto Bulk used to be a renowned rose grower. He’s our guide this week and drives us from one nursery to the next. Bulk began in 1978 and he grew roses for many years. He was the first to introduce a mobile system for roses, but eventually he had to make a switch.
Bulk simply couldn’t compete with the cheaper roses from Ecuador and Colombia. He was visiting the United States one day and noticed that Ecuadorian roses were being sold for 49 cents over there. He’d never be able to beat that.
So, he had to start thinking about different types of flowers. Something that was difficult to grow and tricky to transport. He chose gerbera, lisianthus and snapdragon. His neighbour, Henri Westerveld, who once worked for Bulk, also switched from rose to gerbera.
Westerveld says that things weren’t great for a while, but that these days, the gerbera is doing well. Many smaller growers gave up and sold or let their nurseries to cannabis growers, and a few competitors in California have also disappeared. The exchange rate of the American dollar against the Canadian dollar is favourable. Up until two years ago, the pressure on the market was huge, but at the moment things are going well. Westerveld calls it ‘saved by marijuana’. This winter, he’s going to expand.
And we visited another former employee of Bulk this morning, Ed Feenstra. He grows lilies on 7,000 m2, using a mobile cultivation system. It was fascinating to see. Lily is another flower that isn’t grown much in South America. Having said that, during our visit to importer Mex i Can earlier this week, we did see some lilies from Mexico.
Bulk’s own company (he claims he’s retired now), Rosa Flora, is fascinating too. It’s extremely well organised, large scale (even for Dutch standards), clean and they deliver high quality produce. We got to see three greenhouses filled with gerbera, one with snapdragon and one with lisiantus.
All of these are flower varieties that are unlikely to be grown in Ecuador and Colombia any time soon. A problem they would have with snapdragons for example, is that they have to be transported upright, or they will bend.
Rosa Flora has a total of 15 hectares of flowers, divided over five different plants. They take care of sales themselves. And they manage the transport as well. They ship large quantities of flowers to wholesalers in Canada and in the north-east of the USA every week.
Growers from the Dutch Westland region are generally not lost for words. But when we left Rosa Flora today, they were all very quiet. And so was I. Not because of the abundance of gerberas that we had seen that day. But because we were all so immensely impressed by Rosa Flora – that visit definitely brought us back to earth.