The cut floral industry is undergoing dramatic change. Like growers in other segments of the agriculture industry, most floral growers relied on the twentieth century agro-industrial paradigm as the core of their growing practices. Over the last few years an increasing number of growers throughout the industry have been reducing their reliance on chemical-based horticulture in favor of sustainable agricultural practices.
The industry’s transformation is largely driven by consumers’ increased concerns about how flowers are grown, where and by whom, what are the environmental and energy impacts associated with their production, and whether they are compromised by chemical residues. In the wake of the organic foods phenomenon consumers are seeking products that are aligned with their environmental and health values, and want to be assured that producers and retailers make an honest effort to address these concerns.
Some flower growers have achieved organic certification under the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) but a great majority find the NOP too restrictive to support consistent production of plants with acceptable market quality. It is useful to keep in mind that the NOP is a food standard and that floriculture is not addressed by it. Floriculture products must present both flowers and foliage in top condition, a market requirement that does not apply to most produce. Nevertheless there are many core organic growing practices embraced by responsible flower growers. Until now they have not been able to claim certified credit for their commitment to responsible stewardship.
Aware of this growing consumer trend, Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) in 2003 was asked by a group of forward-thinking North American floral growers and distributors to evaluate several sustainable agriculture labeling programs in the European market. SCS was asked to conduct this investigation based on its established expertise as a leader in sustainability standards development and certification. SCS conducted the work and reported its findings, including a gap analysis showing how all of the existing programs compared.
SCS found that none of the existing programs fully addressed the comprehensive issues associated with sustainable production, and developed a sustainable floral standard that would fully meet the needs of the North American market. The VeriFlora standard has served as the template from which a new national standard for sustainable agriculture has been published by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). It is now the Draft American National Standard for Trial Use (SCS-001) Sustainable Agriculture, and a consensus-based review process involving stakeholders from industry, the NGO community, academia, and other constituencies is underway.
VeriFlora’s disciplined approach to the implementation of sustainable practices is unique:
• The standard includes the most stringent protocols for agrochemical use among all flower label programs (European, South American, etc.). Growers are required to eliminate use and purge their inventories of those materials deemed most toxic by the UN –WHO (tables I & II) and by SCS’ own prohibited list, based on years of pesticide residue testing of produce.
• The standard requires growers to develop a plan to adopt organic pest management and soil fertility practices over time, creating a unified path for organic and sustainable agriculture in terms of crop production practices. Growers are expected to adopt some organic practices as a prerequisite for certification (e.g., composting, green manure, biological controls, etc.).
• The standard contains extensive ecosystem and water quality protection measures to ensure that farmers are not damaging the surrounding habitats and wildlife as a result of their production operations, again well beyond legal requirements.
• The standard includes social responsibility requirements that ensure a fair, equitable and safe workplace. The unique labor circumstances of small growers are taken into consideration.
• VeriFlora certification is available not just to farmers, but to everyone in the supply chain, including shippers, distributors, and retailers. This certification establishes that proper traceability and chain-of-custody procedures are in place, and establishes cold chain management and plant hygiene requirements intended to ensure product quality and vase life, with the goal of enhancing the customer’s flower buying experience.
An increasing number of producers have come to recognize the importance of sustainability to their industry. This has generated transformative trends in agricultural and workplace practices, quality management, and environmental stewardship. Searches for organic materials and alternatives, diminished reliance on agrochemicals, improvements in labor deployment that alleviate employee turnover, improvements in water management and erosion control, and a more disciplined protocol for postharvest cold chain management are especially worthy of note.
VeriFlora has been created for the benefit of all growers who sell their flowers and plants in the U.S. market. It is not solely applicable to the largest commercial operators. We welcome growers who operate small-scale operations to apply for certification. We recognize how the diversity of ASCFG members brings unique value to the entire industry and supports the current trend to “buy local”. We therefore have created an affordable certification program for ASCFG members and we invite you to learn more about its benefits.
Floral Marketing Funding Initiative Delays Industry Presentation
The coalition of industry associations that has been working for over a year to find a way to fund floral marketing received a request from the importer community to wait until some very impactful issues that they are facing are resolved. John Amaya, President of Dole Fresh Flowers and Chairman of the Association of Floral Importers of Florida, suggested that it would be wise to suspend the activities of the Initiative until after next Valentines Day. He said, “The uncertainty of the Free Trade Agreement, ATPADEA, instability of oil prices, and the devaluation of the dollar against the peso are consuming all the attention of the importers.” It is clear that until a better understanding as to how these issues will affect those businesses strong support cannot be achieved.
Red Kennicott, coalition chairman, said, “Although I am very disappointed that we cannot continue at this time, it is important to be sensitive to the issues facing the importers and wait until the environment is more conducive to having a positive vote.” Charles Kremp, who as president has been the front person for the effort said, “The goal of the initiative was to find a way. That has been accomplished. The next step is to gain industry acceptance. We have seen significant support grow on the domestic producer side and now need to wait for the importer position to improve so they too will embrace what is being proposed. The groundwork is finished. Once the industry says go, the next steps are all laid out and an order could be implemented in approximately 1 year.”
Study Calls for Expanding Farm Income Opportunities
Former Senators Bob Dole and Tom Daschle released a comprehensive new report May 30, calling for major changes in current agricultural policy to help American farmers take advantage of new market opportunities while reforming existing subsidy programs to better serve both taxpayers and farmers. In the new report, Competing and Succeeding in the 21st Century: New Markets for American Agriculture, Dole and Daschle note that the face of global and American agriculture is changing, and while farmers face unprecedented challenges, they are also are in position, if the right public policies are put into place, to take advantage of key emerging markets. The report is a product of the 21st Century Agriculture Policy Project, co-chaired by Senators Daschle and Dole, and it makes numerous policy recommendations. The entire report is available for download.