Major Production Issues
First, we wanted to know the major overall production and postharvest issues faced by the industry. Not surprisingly, pest management was at the top of the list for production (Figure 1). The first and third most important issues were insect and disease management. Crop timing was the second most important issue and can encompass a range of issues. Based on comments in other parts of the survey, we understand crop timing issues to include determining the correct harvest stage for some crops, having too short of a harvest window or flowering occurring all at once, or producers’ lack of control over harvest due to weather conditions.
Suppliers will be glad to see that poor-quality propagation materials ranked as the least most important issue. However, there is apparently some improvement to be made as 16 respondents included the factor in their top five most important issues, and one respondent ranked it as the most important.
It was interesting to see that insufficient demand from customers was the second least important issue. We suspect the response to that factor would have been different if we conducted the survey during the height of the Great Recession. Having said that, some businesses were having sales challenges as almost one third of respondents (out of 128 who answered the question), ranked the issue among their top five, and nine listed it as their most important issue.
Figure 1. Respondents were asked to select the five most important production issues for their business and rank them. Each number from 1 (most important) to 5 (least important) was used once for each respondent. Numbers in the bars are the number of times the ranking was recorded for each production issue (n=128).
Major Postharvest Issues
For postharvest, the two top issues were temperature management, and hydration and flower food management. Of course, both are critical to getting a long vase life for cut flowers. Customer care, a common frustration among flower growers, came in third. Who hasn’t seen their lovingly made bouquets stuffed in between the melons and tomatoes or left in a hot car far too long?
Botrytis was ranked the least important problem, and profitability was the second least most important issue. As noted for insufficient demand under the production section, we are sure that lack of profitability would have ranked much higher if the economy was not doing as well for most of ASCFG members.
We also asked respondents to tell us about production and postharvest problems they were dealing with specific to individual crops. For the postharvest issues, we asked about on-farm problems, shipping and transportation problems, and customer care.
Wow, we received hundreds of responses! The challenge was distilling the responses to a list we could manageably report. Even after condensing many similar responses we still had 16 tables in the scientific publication written for the project, far too many to show here. The article is available online and can be reached at: https://journals.ashs.org/horttech/view/journals/horttech/29/3/article-p338.xml?rskey=StuzJz
New growers may want to review their favorite crops to see what potential issues may occur. For the top 31 cut flower species, we listed 87 production issues, 28 on-farm postharvest problems, 18 shipping and transport problems, and 32 customer complaints.
Some cut flower species had more problems than others. Respondents were given the option of reporting that they had no major issues with a particular crop, and 39% did so for production of viburnum, 33% for yarrow, and 32% for ammi. On the other side of the spectrum, everyone reported at least one major production issue for dahlia, and 98% did so for ranunculus. For postharvest challenges, Dutch iris was the least problematic, and rose the most.
As with the overall production issues, many of the species-specific problems involved plants pests such as insects, diseases, and vertebrates. Aphids were reported as major pests on 14 of the 31 plant species, beetles on 12 species, and thrips on twelve. The crops with the most reports of each insect were snapdragons and sweet peas (14% for aphids); rose (17% for beetles), and gladiolus (32% for thrips). Considering how common thrips are on gladiolus, it is interesting that more respondents didn’t list them as a major problem.
Powdery mildew was reported on nine plant species and root/soft rot on twelve. Not surprisingly, almost one third reported powdery mildew as a major issue on zinnia, and for root or soft rot, 10% reported it as a major issue on lisianthus and 14% on calla.
A whole host of vertebrates, such as birds (Canada geese and other species), chipmunks, deer, gophers, mice, rabbits, rats, squirrels, voles, and woodchucks were important problems for many crops, especially Dutch iris, lily, sunflowers, and tulips. All these species have bulbs or large seeds which are quite tasty to a number of animals.
Are you having problems getting sufficiently long stems on some of your crops? You are not alone. One of the most commonly reported issues was short stems, especially for ageratum, anemone, lisianthus, stock, sweet pea, sweet William, and tulip.
Crop timing, specifically controlling flowering time and harvesting at the correct stage, were major concerns for eight species: anemone, cosmos, peony, ranunculus, stock, sunflower, sweet pea, and tulip. Not surprisingly, all but cosmos and sunflower are cool season crops that can be greatly accelerated by sudden warm spells or delayed by prolonged cold weather. Cosmos and sunflowers are both species that have a fairly narrow harvest stage window and flowers can quickly get too old to harvest.
The most commonly mentioned on-farm postharvest problem was timing of harvest (for two-thirds of species!) for the same reasons growers listed it as an important production issue. Two other major postharvest problems at the farm were hydration and temperature management, which were mentioned as problems for over half of the species; hydration was especially an issue for hydrangea, viburnum, and yarrow.
Short vase life was a problem for about a third of the species (13) with cosmos and dahlia noted in particular. Shattering was noted for eight species (notably phlox), weak stems for nine, stripping of foliage or thorns on roses (thorns, obviously), but also snapdragon and sweet William due to the tendency of the stems to break when foliage is removed.
During storage and transportation the mostly commonly reported problems were damage (over half of species) and temperature management (over two thirds of species). Not surprisingly, growers were most concerned about maintaining cold temperatures for peonies.
Damage was particularly problematic for three species with large and somewhat fragile petals: dahlia, gladiolus, and lily. Hydration challenges were mentioned yet again during the shipping and storage phase, and especially for viburnum.
Shattering was a major problem for nine species (especially larkspur), weak stems for nine species (especially calla), vase life for nine species (especially dahlia), and flower opening for anemone, Dutch iris, peony, tuberose, and tulip. Dutch iris, peony, and tulip can open too fast if not kept cold and properly handled. Anemone can be tricky to harvest, depending on how long they have been open, and flowers on tuberose stems sometimes do not open very well.
Not surprisingly, vase life was mentioned as a problem during the consumer phase for over a third of the species, and was noted as a problem for several popular flowers: dahlia (26% of respondents mentioned it), Dutch iris (23%), rose (17%) and zinnia (20%).
Smell was mentioned for marigolds and lilies. Some find the scent of marigolds unpleasant. Since most of the odor is in the foliage, those harvesting the flowers and stripping the foliage get the brunt of it. On the other hand, some lily flowers, especially the popular oriental types, have a pleasant fragrance, but it can be overpowering for many people.
An excess of pollen, which can stain clothes, tablecloths, and car seats, was reported for ammi, lilies, and sunflowers. With lilies, growers and retailers can lessen the problem by removing anthers from opening flowers. With sunflowers, choose the pollenless varieties whenever possible.
Interestingly, lack of supply of cut stems was noted for 17 species, especially echinacea, but lack of customer demand was also mentioned for 11 species. Both complaints were noted for echinacea, lisianthus, stock, sunflower, yarrow and zinnia, showing the vagaries of markets. Customers in some locations cannot get enough of a particular species, yet in other locations, growers cannot “give it away”. The difficulties of gauging market demand are legendary, which this survey picked up.
Shattering continues to be a major issue at the consumer level for nine species, especially for delphinium and phlox. Failure to open was noted for Dutch iris, lisianthus, peony, tuberose, and tulip.
The cut flower industry in the United States and Canada grows and handles an exceptionally diverse array of material, with an attendant broad range of production issues. The results from this survey can guide researchers and industry leaders on their quest for crop improvement. Thank you to all of the ASCFG members who took their time to respond to the survey.