Taking a road trip around Colombia’s cut flower farms

Every two years in Bogotá, Colombia, a flower trade show takes place. The last event was Proflora 2019, organised by ASOCOLFLORES, the marketing arm of the floriculture industry in Latin America.

By invitation, before the Coronavirus pandemic, I took a bus tour, along with other floriculture journalists, around the country’s cut flower and cut foliage operations. This article is publishing today, in support of the South American sector, and to raise the profile, visibility and importance of floriculture there.

First on the list is Flores de Serrezuela, long-time player in the Colombian flower industry. Now entering its 35th year in operation, Ricardo Samper, leads the company and is a second-generation grower and exporter who personally hosts our visit. Flores de Serrezuela was founded in 1985 by Ricardo’s father and uncle, he explains. Currently, it spans more than 50ha in production and employs 900 people, about 60 per cent of whom are women. They mainly grow roses and carnations. Standing inside a carnation greenhouse, looking at the uniform, vibrant green, healthy plants, all the same height, colour, and bud stage, is a striking view, as a pure sea of flowers. “We are somewhat atypical to other Colombian flower exporters,” Ricardo continues, “since only about 30 per cent of our sales are in the US.”

They send 25 per cent of their flowers to Japan and about 18 per cent to Russia he adds, and the remaining 23 per cent to other markets mostly in Europe but also as far away as Australia and Korea, he explains. Also, the mass market (bouquets) which has become increasingly important for many, is not their core business. “Quality, rather than bulk, has always been our goal,” he stresses, adding that over the years they have developed a network of trusted clients mainly wholesalers. “We are trailing the mass market in the US and the UK in connection with high consumption holidays like Valentine’s Day, but it’s not our main line of work.”

Flores de Serrezuela is Rainforest Alliance certified, and Ricardo is confident they fully comply with the Colombian Florverde standard. They harvest rainwater, observe strict worker welfare and safety guidelines and monitor nutrition and pest control schemes closely.

Our next stop comprises two cut foliage operations at a lower altitude than Bogotá, where the weather is slightly warmer. ASOCOLFLORES and the Colombian Government are supporting the cut foliage industry, as this sector has grown significantly over the past decade, along with the bouquet trade. In 2018, Colombian cut foliage exports amounted to a volume of more than 2,250 tons valued at about $12.5 million an increase of 14.1 per cent with respect to 2017. The product mix comprises some 20 different types of greens, which are reaching more than 40 countries worldwide.

First, is Colombia Verde where they produce Ruscus, Cocculus laurifolius, leatherleaf fern, Liriope, lily grass, tree fern and Lonicera pileata ‘Brillantina’. Some people know this last product as Pittosporum ‘Brillantina’ an almost glittery, deep green, long-lasting filler, which is increasingly popular for bouquets.

Colombia Verde encompasses four farms close together, spanning over about 20ha. They started operating in 2003 and have steadily grown as suppliers to bouquet exporters, mostly in Colombia but also in Miami, USA.

Following the cut foliage trail, we continue to nearby Rhumora Greens. A family-owned operation, founded in 2005, it constitutes five operating sites totalling 25ha in production. We are greeted by Carlos Castro, in charge of marketing, who explains that they are exporting cut foliage mainly to Ecuador and Miami where they supply bouquet makers with nearly 20 types of foliage. Many products are the same as the previous growers, but also include aralia, evergreens (cypress pine), Leucadendron, myrtle, Eucalyptus and more; plus, dyed branches for special occasions.
Rhumora also sells to Colombian bouquet makers and buys from smaller producers in the area, to complete orders and to help the local community. “Presently we are exploring some new products,” says Carlos, showing us very beautiful Lisianthus and a bunch of Ptilotus which indeed is quite novel. Native to Australia, Ptilotus has large, conical, feathery flowers in a lovely pink to lilac hue, and dark foliage, and seems an ideal filler for bouquets. It has a short cropping time (14-16 weeks) and does not need a lot of water. It would not be surprising to see this more often in future.

Floriculture in Colombia has become progressively more involved, varied, and versatile over the years. It is a robust and resilient sector that is keeping its well-deserved place as the second world exporter of cut flowers.

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