Is there a future for shipping flowers by sea?
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) immortalized the American patriot Paul Revere (1735-1818) in his poem Paul Revere’s Ride. Undoubtedly, the three most famous lines of this poem are “Listen my children and you shall hear, Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, One if by land, and two if by sea.”
While some historians may questionLongfellow’s account of this celebrated event, there is no disagreement that sea transport of cut flowers is slowly finding its niche in complementing air flower transportation modes. It is therefore the intent of this article to update Chain of Life Network® Members on the history, system description, advantages and potential concerns of flower transport by sea.
The US cut flowerindustry started in the late1800’s, mainly near metropolitan areas in the East and then migrated to the Midwest. Early important production states were Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, Connecticut, Indiana and Michigan. One reason greenhouses were located near population centers was the difficulty of shipping perishable products like flowers long distances.
As refrigerated trucktechnologies improved, going from ice bunkers to mechanical refrigeration systems, the distances that flowers could be transported increased with minimal effects on flower quality. Although not refrigerated, the advent of flower transport by air essentially made no flower production area too far from any potential market. While never used in significant volume, even train transport of flowersopened up selected markets for certain production areas.
Coupled with climatic advantages, advances in flower transportation systems allowed for the development of large flower production areas in states like Florida, Colorado and California. Indeed, these same transportation and climate advantages also aided offshore flower growers to become dominant cut flower suppliers beginning in the early1970’s.
Many of these early imported flowers came from Colombia, The Netherlands and Israel. Other countries subsequently followed suit including Guatemala, Mexico, Australia, Thailand and Ecuador. Throughout this entire period, Canadian-grown cut flowers were exported to the US in relatively small but important volumes. Additionally, cut greens (in significant volumes) and some cut flowers fromCosta Rica were and continue to be exported to the US.
Today, from two-thirds to three-quarters of all cut flowers consumed in the US are imported. As a result, traditional greenhouse grown cut flower production has nearly disappeared in the East, Midwest, Colorado and most other states. Even California has witnessed a significant change in the species grown, as competing with imports has provendifficult as measured by economic and quality factors.
Except for the flowers being trucked into the US from Canada and Mexico, all of the remaining imported cut flowers are flown to the US. Common entry airports include New York, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Francisco. However, by far the biggest entry airport is Miami International. Approximately 85% of allimported cut flowers enter through this one location. As a result, the receiving, clearing (Customs and USDA), precooling and redistribution infrastructures in and around Miami International Airport are unmatched in other US cities.
Most countries exporting cut flowers to the US ship their products on planes that also carry passengers while some are shipped on freighters, often with other products.Two main exceptions are the very large flower volumes shipped to the US from Colombia and Ecuador where only flower dedicated freighter aircraft are used.
While Colombia and Ecuador share in the same transportation mode, the costs for these air transport services are anything but equal. Specifically, flower transportation costs from Ecuador to the US are significantly higher than those from...