Colombia is a land of eternal spring, with a climate ideal for growing flowers year-round. So ideal, in fact, that cut flowers have become a billion-dollar-plus enterprise. The evidence is all around you: Chances are, the roses, carnations, and countless other types of flowers in your shop were all grown there. Ever wonder how they do it? What keeps the Colombian flower industry on top? In short, favorable climate, abundant resources and a lot of hard work done by a strong local horticultural workforce.
“As this country’s cut flower production has grown to become the second largest in the world, breeders and growers have maintained their focus on quality and new varieties.”
1. Water Quality Few growing regions have the abundance of water that Colombia has. But its advantage goes beyond mere supply: Colombian growers understand the importance of using high-quality water. They treat and filter the water before use, and they capture the runoff for reuse whenever possible.
2. Cultivar Expertise Breeders once developed varieties around the world, then growers tried to adapt these to the Colombian environment. Today, breeders do their work in Colombia, within the same micro-climate that dominates the growing cycle. This leads to faster, more successful new product development.
3. Cold-chain Adherence and Investment Cold-chain lapses during transport and handling have dire consequences for vase life. Colombian growers and industry allies have responded at every stage of the process:
• Pre-cooling If the cold chain is broken, precoolers quickly reduce temperatures to optimum levels. This is a costly and time-consuming step, but pre-coolers are common in Colombia.
• Processing Grading operations and bouquet houses have large coolers to remove field heat and to ensure coldness during packing.
• Trucking Refrigerated trucks carry flowers from the farms and bouquet houses to the airport.
• The Airports Growers and other industry players came together to construct cold rooms in the Bogotá and Medellín airports.
4. Use of Commercial Postharvest Solutions Colombia has embraced technology in postharvest care for cut flowers. Automated moving and grading is common, which reduces labor and physical damage to flowers. Growers have adapted processes and tools from other industries for floral use, such as box and sleeve design and chemical applications.
5. Social and Environmental Responsibility Today’s Colombian growers have made great strides in sustainability and working conditions. Industry watchdogs such as Asocolflores, the Association of Colombian Flower Exporters (asocolflores.org) work to support industry efforts and to promote them to the outside world.
This, briefly, is the story of Colombian floral success. To be sure, there are many fine growing regions in the floral world. Each has its strengths. Each is a vital component in the floral economy. And each does its part to bring a little joy and sunshine into the world. But in few places do the components of floral success come together in such abundance as they do in Colombia. Whatever you’re doing, Colombia, keep it up!
Steve Daum, director of Superfloral Technologies at Floralife, a division of Smithers-Oasis Company, has worked in fl oral production and cut flower postharvest care and handling for nearly 30 years. Steve worked as a grower in Latin America and managed the quality control department for Eagle Condor Farm in Ecuador. He received his B.S. in Ornamental Horticulture from the University of Florida and M.B.A. in International Business Trade and Finance from St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Fla. Steve has conducted many seminars on care and handling in both the United States and internationally. Steve won the PMA Marketer of the Year in 2002.