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Stakeholder Spotlight: How Central Florida Nurseries are Coping with COVID-19

By Brandon White

In the face of COVID-19, many businesses nationwide had to adapt business practices to comply with new regulations and public health safety standards. MREC spoke with nurseries around Central Florida to understand impacts of the pandemic on the local horticultural industry.

Deroose Plants, a large producer of exotic plants, quickly adopted safety measures based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines following Orange County’s stay-at-home order.

ShaneTinker specializes in tropical plants, primarily sourced from South Florida producers.

“We are responsible for the safety of our 150 employees and we take that seriously,” said Valerie Santiago, Human Resources Manager at Deroose Plants. “All employees and visitors must wear masks and practice social distancing in our workplace.”

Shane Tinker Enterprises, located in Mount Dora, reported an initial slowdown but has seen an uptick in business since the beginning of stay-at-home orders, even pulling plant orders by golf cart headlights at night.

“We had a few days of slow down, but really we have been busier than ever,” said chief operating officer Wendy Walker. “As a plant broker, we have really benefited from people being home and more active in their gardens. The garden centers we broker for have had record years in sales.”

Growers also flourished online, where sales took off with major holidays like Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day fueling demand. Local Lake County nursery owners even mentioned hiring displaced, out-of-work friends and family to keep up with overwhelming demand.

John Klinger of Brantley Nurseries, a producer of ornamental landscape plants, reported that despite a changing marketplace, business continued as usual. Like other nurseries, they saw benefit from people turning to their yards to work while at home, as quick sales of blooming perennials and annuals left them wishing they had more.

One of the challenges growers faced in adapting to a COVID-19 marketplace was importing plant material. Plant material that comes from abroad often came into Orlando International Airport, but was often rerouted to northern cities, like New York City, where they would be shipped to Florida in refrigerated trucks.

Though this small representation of Central Florida nurseries does not represent the experience of all of Florida horticulture, the overall theme of adaptability and commitment to overcome hardship seemed to fit those in the industry quite well.

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