Politics & Government

State flower growers asking for help

WASHINGTON — U.S. flower growers normally consider themselves purveyors of joy, but they’re none too happy with the state of their industry these days.

This month, 97 percent of the roses Americans purchased for Valentine’s Day came from foreign countries such as Colombia and Ecuador. And on New Year’s Day, four of every five flowers used to decorate the floats in the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., were imported.

On Thursday, growers from California and Washington — the top two states in cut-flower production — took their complaints to the U.S. Capitol. Irked with a trade policy that they say is quickly driving them out of business, the growers said Congress must help convince Americans to buy more domestic flowers.

“We have the hearts of the American people behind us — we just have to get the word out there,” said Diane Szukovathy of Mount Vernon, who runs the Jello Mold Farm with her husband in the Skagit River Valley north of Seattle.

Growers said domestic production of cut flowers now accounts for only 25 percent of the U.S. market, compared with 75 percent in 1991. And they said surveys have pointed to one persistent problem: Most Americans have no clue where the flowers they’ve purchased were grown.

Hoping to bring more public attention to their situation, the West Coast growers helped two California House members — Democrat Lois Capps and Republican Duncan Hunter — launch the new Congressional Cut Flower Caucus.

The foreign flowers, meanwhile, are big in south Florida, with 90 percent of all imported stems coming through Miami.

“If we took out that 90 percent and it just went away tomorrow, 7,000 people would lose their jobs,” said Christine Boldt, executive vice president of the Association of Floral Importers of Florida, based in Miami.