What A Difference A Decade Makes

What A Difference A Decade Makes

The year 2006 turned out to be very eventful for the Colombian flower sector. Florverde, its social and environmental program, reached its 10th anniversary at the same time that both Colombia and the United States signed Colombia’s entry into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The treaty will guarantee the permanent tax-free sales of goods among all member countries.

With an estimated US $907 million in flower exports in 2006, Colombia is the world’s second largest flower exporter, only behind the Netherlands. Such business volume also places Colombia in the first position of rose exports and second in carnations. What’s more, this admirable position has been achieved in only 35 years.

Flower production in Colombia can be characterized by assortment. More than 50 species are exported, even though roses and carnations have the main share. Most production takes place in the Bogota plateau (85 percent in acreage). The country has a diversity of producers, with 300 companies and 700 farms. The flower market in Colombia is export-geared. About 98 percent of it is exported to 76 countries. Its high entrepreneurial level has helped to organize the industry at home and to represent it overseas.

Marketwise, the United States emerged as the natural destination to Colombian flowers through the years. It is by far Colombia’s main client, purchasing 80 percent of all flower exports. Trade agreements that allow the tax-free entry of goods from Andean countries into the American market been renewed periodically since the early ’90s. On the other hand, neighboring Ecuador, another major flower producer, has chosen not to join NAFTA. Its flowers may have to face 7 percent import duties. 

Image Overhaul

The picture has not always been so rosy. A big part of the success that the Colombian flower sector enjoys today is due to a change in the vision of what flower production entails and the image it projects. At the origin of Florverde were complaints in the European media in 1990 regarding the sector’s poor care for its workers and the environment. However, intensive floricultural production done right next to the country’s main city (population 7 million) does put an extra burden on the environment. There is competition for water, fertilizer and pesticide use to be dealt with, plastics to be recycled, and so on.

Fearing the negative impact of such news and sighting an opportunity for market boosting, the complaints led a group of growers to create their own quality program. Following its success, Asocolflores (the Colombian Association of Flower Exporters) adopted the idea, introducing the voluntary Florverde program to all its members in 1996.

As an internationally-recognized program, Florverde is based on a code of conduct set by an internal committee within Asocolflores, which establishes rules and procedures that have to be followed in order for farms to participate. In 2003, Florverde became a label, certified by the Swiss company SGS, upon periodical farm audits. As of Jan. 1, 137 flower-producing companies were part of Florverde, corresponding to 167 farms. These farms represent 48 percent of the country’s flower-planted area, or 7,492 acres, employing 45,977 workers. Within this group of companies, 86 have already received official Florverde certification, while the remaining 51 are undergoing the certification process. A complete list of participating companies, as well as detailed information on the program’s standards can be seen at the organization’s new Web site, www.florverde.org.

On one hand, Florverde’s standards are always more stringent than the regular legislation, but on another it doesn’t tell growers how to do it. Different companies have met or surpassed the programs goals by adopting strategies that are best suited to their workforce, operation size and crops grown.


Florverde In Practice

Ernesto Velez, president of the board of directors at Asocolflores and a grower himself, is a frequently invited guest at American colleges and floricultural associations to talk about the Colombian flower sector status, its achievements and challenges. At the family farm, Suasuque, he puts into practice what he preaches. The 35-acre operation is run together with his wife Lucie de Monchaux, who is closely tied to the start of one of the main Florverde’s social programs. Originally a dairy family farm with hobby roses, Suasuque became a commercial carnation operation in 1980, diversifying to the present eight cut flower crops in the mid-’90s. The company was part of the first group to join Florverde at its inception in 1996, and in 2004 it also obtained an ISO 14001 certification, the international environmental standard.

Integrated Pest Management practices have been in place at Suasuque since 1997, complete with its own lab for reproducing fungi and bacteria that control insect pests; biological control with insect predators is also used. As a result of both, the measured chemical pesticide use has gone down from 45 to 3 lb. ai/acre/year in 2006, over a 10-year period. As far as fertilizing goes, the increased use of manures, humus, composting and other organic concepts has cut back chemical fertilization costs to one fifth, measured in current dollar costs/acre.

However, it is the average farm worker that has noticed the main improvements. The pay rate among Suasuque’s 130 employees (91 women) is based on a piece-rate system that takes into consideration individual performance and group quality targets. As a result, the company’s wages have been in the top 10 percent among Asocolflores annual salary survey on a 10-year average, or 35 percent higher than minimum wage in Colombia on average. Most importantly, worker turnover has been around 1 percent.

One of Suasuque’s most innovative social actions, Cultivating Peace in the Family, actually became a development program within the Asocolflores framework. The inspiration for it came after de Monchaux attended a course at Asocolflores in which Harvard Business School negotiation techniques were taught to the association directors. Drawing from her psychology background, de Monchaux adapted its methodology to farm workers. Set up as a workshop to train workers to diffuse potentially conflicting situations before they escalate, at home or work, the course has been refined since it started in 1998, and more than 20,000 employees already have attended it in the flower sector.

Using therapy-like tools and relying on the trickle-down effect attitude change has in one’s family and community, the program’s concept has inspired other industries, and even town officials, as instrumental to the peace-keeping efforts. As Asocolflores coordinator for the Social Development Program Committee, de Monchaux is always willing to share her learning experience with anyone interested, anywhere.

“I believe with actions like these we are leaving the world a little better than we found it,” she says. In the end, that’s what Florverde has made for its sector, as well. Naturally, not all the world’s problems have been solved, but essential ones have been addressed, and with this and several other programs, Asocolflores members have invested in their own future, guaranteeing the sector’s sustainability.

Leave a Reply

More From Plant Culture...

November 26, 2015

2015 Metrolina Greenhouses (Huntersville, NC) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results for Metrolina Greenhouses in Huntersville, NC.

Read More
Yoshimi And Grace Shibata

November 26, 2015

American Floral Endowment Establishes Fund To Honor Legacy Of Yoshimi Shibata

Yoshimi “Shimi” Shibata, a flower grower and wholesale florist, passed away in October at the age of 100.

Read More
Vinca 'Valiant Lilac' (2015 Texas A&M University Field Trials)

November 25, 2015

2015 Texas A&M University (Overton, Texas) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton, Texas.

Read More
Latest Stories

September 20, 2015

Technology Improves Orchid Production At Green Circle G…

Green Circle Growers in Oberlin, Ohio, has a commitment to using production practices that are efficient and sustainable. The operation has been growing Orchids for nine years, and is entering its second full year with its current system, which entails three camera grades. “The camera grading — first at production into a 5-inch pot, then 12 weeks later and a final grade after the stem and buds have developed — is raising our overall quality,” says Wesley Van Wingerden, director of growing for Green Circle Growers. Greenhouse Grower visited the operation to take a tour of its facilities and learn more about its Orchid production. Read on for more details about the process. The first of the camera grades is incorporated into the transplant process, which involves placing the Orchids from a community tray into 5-inch pots. The plants are separated into three sizes with the smallest returning to the […]

Read More

September 15, 2015

Young Plant Growers Weigh In On Crop Gains, Sales Trend…

Almost 100 young plant producers participated in Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Young Plant Grower Survey, which asked growers questions abot crop categories, sales, order fulfillment and more.

Read More
Top20YPGrowers feature image

September 15, 2015

The State Of The 2015 Young Plant Market

Young plant growers in North America are changing their strategies to stay competitive in today’s market. Here is how 2015 shapes up in trends and statistics.

Read More
Vivero International_Endisch

September 8, 2015

Vivero Internacional Continues To Expand Unrooted Cutti…

The tenth largest cuttings farm in the world, Vivero Internacional was founded in 1991 and began exporting unrooted cuttings in 1993. Based in Tepoztlan, Morelos, just outside of Mexico City, Mexico, the operation opened with 2 hectares or 5 acres. With time and new customers, the farm has experienced rapid growth, now spanning 40 hectares or 99 acres, says Vivero’s Dennis Hitzigrath. “The first 10 years, production was doubling every season,” Hitzigrath says. “In the last three years, it’s been about 20 percent.”     The independent operation grows 100 million cuttings annually for several breeders, serving the North American market. Hitzigrath says consolidation among breeders has brought more of a focus on Vivero Internacional from third-party breeders in recent years. This growing interest is spurring even more growth. “We are planning for a minimum growth of 20 percent,” Hitzigrath says. “We are adding more production space and hope to be […]

Read More

August 19, 2015

Greenhouse Growing Recommendations For Lobularia

Modern-day Lobularias are garden classics with good vigor and long bloom times. These growing recommendations will help keep your crop in prime condition.

Read More
Mike McGroarty, owner of Mike’s Backyard Nursery

July 29, 2015

Backyard Success: Mike McGroarty Educates Aspiring Grow…

Mike’s Backyard Nursery sits on a long, narrow, 5-acre property located in Perry, Ohio. There, customers can find a variety of flowering shrubs available, all in 2-quart pots, and all for sale for $5.97 each. Owner Mike McGroarty, a lifelong resident of Perry, says the town has a lot of plant nurseries, including 100 wholesale growers within a 10-mile radius of his house. That doesn’t discourage McGroarty, because he knows that while there are a lot of nurseries in his area, no one else is doing what he is doing. McGroarty has learned about plants — and marketing them to his audience — through decades of experience. He has never hesitated to pass along his knowledge to other growers looking to start their own backyard operations, and has created an entire program to educate aspiring growers. McGroarty Likes To Practice What He Preaches McGroarty’s operation serves as the laboratory for […]

Read More
cannabis, marijuana plant

June 27, 2015

Concern Grows Over Unregulated Pesticide Use On Cannabi…

As most growers know well, the federal government regulates all insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and other commercial chemicals used on agricultural crops. Therein lies the problem with use of chemicals on cannabis crops – so far, the feds want nothing to do with legalized marijuana. According to “Concern Grows Over Unregulated Pesticide Use On Cannabis,” a June 17 article on the National Public Radio (NPR) network by Agribusiness Reporter Luke Runyon, the lack of regulated chemicals for cannabis has left growers to experiment on their own. “In the absence of any direction the subject of pesticide use on the crop has just devolved to whatever people think is working or they think is appropriate,” said Colorado State University Entomologist Whitney Cranshaw in the NPR report. “Sometimes they’ve used some things that are appropriate, sometimes unsafe.” Denver officials held tens of thousands of marijuana plants earlier this year due to safety concerns, but […]

Read More

June 16, 2015

The Butterfly Effect: Insect’s Wings Key To Azalea Poll…

A researcher from North Carolina State University (NC State) has found that in the case of the flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum), all pollinators are not created equal. In fact, due to the flower’s unique reproductive structure, butterflies — and specifically, their wings — are the key to pollination. The flame azalea is commonly found in the Appalachian Mountains, ranging from as far north as New York to Georgia in the south. Like most azaleas, the flowers are large, and have an unusual structure: both the anther (male) and stigma (female) parts are very elongated and separated from one another. NC State biologist Mary Jane Epps was interested in how the azalea’s flower structure affected its pollination. “In order for a plant to reproduce, a pollinator — usually an insect — has to spread the pollen from the anther to the stigma,” Epps says. “In the case of the flame azalea, […]

Read More
Bee on a Sedum

March 17, 2015

4 Key Pollinator Research Projects To Be Funded By Hort…

The Horticultural Research Institute will grant $125,000 in financial support for four key projects as part of the Horticultural Industry Bee & Pollinator Stewardship Initiative. The Initiative has three primary goals. First, to convene a task force to develop a bee and pollinator stewardship program, including creation of best management practices for plant production. Second, to identify and fund research that will help answer key science questions and fill gaps needed to design and refine the stewardship program. Third, to seek to positively position the horticultural community and its customers by collaborating with other compatible groups interested in augmenting pollinator habitat and protection.

Read More

March 11, 2015

Pollinator Initiative Promotes Bee-Friendly Talking Poi…

AmericanHort and the Society of American Florists are working tirelessly with the ornamental industry's Pollinator Stewardship Initiative on a number of new projects.

Read More

February 11, 2015

Infusion Technology Boosts Seed Performance, Study Sugg…

Seven-year-old wheat seed germination can increase by as much as 83 percent, according to a Vital Force Technology Study that looks at the effects of energy infusion technology on plant vitality.

Read More

February 3, 2015

American Floral Endowment Accepting Research Pre-Propos…

If you are pursuing a floriculture research project, now is the time to apply for funding through the American Floral Endowment. Research pre-proposal applications for 2015-2016 funding are due to AFE by June 1, 2015.

Read More

January 27, 2015

Marijuana’s Trajectory And Ascent To Horticultural Cr…

Marijuana growing is poised for change as growers and researchers focus on improving production practices.

Read More

December 9, 2014

Greenhouse Production: Two Years Of Basics & Beyond…

Greenhouse Grower's Basics & Beyond articles cover some of the latest news and research going on in greenhouse production. Here are article links for the last two years.

Read More
GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile & App Design Awards

November 24, 2014

GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile &…

The social garden app GrowIt! takes the Gold Winner award at the design100 2014 Mobile & App Design Awards.

Read More

November 10, 2014

The Perennial Farm Joins HGTV HOME Plant Collection

The Perennial Farm joins the HGTV HOME Plant Collection growers' network for 2015.

Read More

November 4, 2014

AmericanHort Publishes Revised American Standard For Nu…

AmericanHort announces the revised American Standard for Nursery Stock (ANSI Z60.1) is now available for industry use. The Standard reflects the consensus of the industry regarding how nursery stock — living plants other than annuals — should be specified and sold within the trade.

Read More

September 26, 2014

Master The Art Of Watering

Watering is elemental to healthy plants, but one of the hardest concepts for new employees to master in the greenhouse. Recommend these tips to start them off right.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]