Recently, I had a chance to speak with David Register, President and CEO of FernTrust Inc. in Seville, FL. I asked him what was the impact to the flower and cut foliage industry from COVID-19? “COVID-19 has impacted the cut foliage industry,” says Register. “As special events were cancelled including weddings, funerals and social celebrations the industry saw a drastic slow down to all cut foliage and flower sales. In late March when the stay-at-home order went out, the sales of cut foliage dropped DAILY by 80-90%. It now is starting to pick up for the Mother’s Day holiday (May 10th). Deliveries too, are starting to pick up as the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted slowly.” He adds, “For many growers, this time of year is the busiest with Easter, Mother’s Day. David estimated that compared to previous year sales this year’s sales are DOWN by 40-50% on a normal Mother’s Day holiday.”
As we enter our third month of the pandemic, COVID-19 continues to affect the industry. David reassures that employees are still working in packing houses using social distancing, facial masks to meet regulatory standards for a safe working environment. The Labor workforce is adequate and delivery capabilities are keeping up with orders too. However, FernTrust Inc. had to furlough 85-90% of their work force for one month (late March-April) in order to meet its financial commitments. Fortunately, workers are back on the job. The industry overall has lost its international market (for now) as it was shut down due to COVID-19 and could not deliver the foliage abroad.
David estimated that flowers and cut foliage are a $100 million industry. This does not include the indirect impacts of the industry and how it provides significant employment, economic value, international trade importance, community development and a local tax base for Volusia County.
Fortunately, the industry has had to readjust the supply chains. Initially, the foliage was picked up by the wholesalers for delivery directly to the florists and the florist shops. As a result of COVID-19, florist shops were forced to be closed (as they were not deemed essential). The deliveries stopped because the product could not be delivered to a store front. Producers had to develop alternative delivery chains. This is where they found success by delivering the product themselves through coordinated efforts with the florist industry.
David credits the recent help from the federal assistance Payroll Protection Employee Loan program (PPE) to provide funds due to wage losses. Filing for the federal assistance was relatively straightforward receiving the funding within 1-2 weeks. He credits his luck due to his good relationship with his local bank that helped expedite the application process.
What can people do to support these growers?
BUY FLOWERS AND SEND FLOWERS and make sure that they are AMERICAN GROWN. This is the important take-away whenever you purchase, decorate and celebrate with flowers.
Resources: Check out this YouTube video on Gardeners Hotline PBS WDSC-TV, with host Karen Stauderman, (UF/IFAS Commercial Horticulture Agent for Volusia County) along with David Register to learn more about this industry.