Beneath the panes of his greenhouse, Jan VanZanten surveys a sea of sun star flowers rising up from plastic pots, ready to ship but without a buyer. In past years, the Niagara Region grower had no trouble selling to wholesalers by the thousands.
“Now we’re just composting,” VanZanten said. “Since my kids are home every afternoon, they have to spend two hours throwing out the flowers that have bloomed out.”
Sales are down 30 per cent for the year and Easter came and went at the height of physical distancing measures. The uncertainty facing the industry as Mother’s Day approaches – “you could liken it to Christmas for every other retailer” – and the critical spring planting season dawns are even more worrisome.
“If this goes till June we will most likely be at 70 per cent,” he said of year-over-year revenue loss. “My overdraft is maxed out at the bank. Obviously, they’re wondering when I’m going to start drawing that back, and I can’t since I haven’t sold anything.”
VanZanten is one of thousands of flower farmers across the country concerned about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Demand for non-perishable items pushed decorative plants out of the supply chain in last month’s stockpiling frenzy, while the ongoing shutdown of garden centres in jurisdictions including Ontario and New York has cut off critical points of sale, threatening to leave growers high and dry.
“This is when we sell. We’re on the cusp of a critical period,” said James Farrar, director of the Canadian Ornamental Horticulture Alliance.
Trees, bushes and bedding plants are usually planted between May 1 and June 15, he said, with customers ranging from backyard gardeners to municipalities.