Quick to rebound

April 16, 2014
Written by
Rosa Flora is quickly rebounding from a disastrous fire on March 6 that swept through a large part of its 14-hectare operation near Dunnville, Ontario.

Ralph-DeBoer  
Operations manager Ralph DeBoer.
 

Destroyed were about two hectares of gerbera production along with four and a half hectares of snapdragon greenhouses, along with the company’s main offices, its 30,000-square-foot cooler, the main loading docks, and 16 delivery trucks.

Eight local fire stations responded to the blaze, which took several hours to extinguish.

Gerbera ranges in Plants 2 and 3, located across the road, were untouched, along with the alstroemeria range.

Founded in 1978 by Otto and Corine Bulk, Rosa Flora is a leading North American cut flower growing and marketing operation. Major crops grown include large and mini gerbera, snapdragons, alstroemeria and stephanotis.

The company is now co-owned by Ralph DeBoer, Arielle DeBoer and Joshua Bulk.

Rosa Flora quickly took steps to replace the lost snapdragon production.

About a week after the fire they announced plans to rebuild two hectares of snapdragon greenhouses. Planting in the new greenhouses started in mid-April, with harvesting scheduled for mid-June.

Site clearing was well underway when we visited the company towards the end of March.

And about a week after that announcement, the company purchased Peter Bulk Greenhouses of nearby Welland, and with it some 90,000-square-feet of snapdragon production ready for market. The Welland operation also grows viburnum, peonies and ilex in smaller quantities.

(Peter Bulk is the cousin of Rosa Flora founder Otto Bulk.)

“Within days of the fire, it became obvious there was some mutual benefit to making that happen immediately,” said DeBoer of the purchase of Peter Bulk Greenhouses.

Rosa-Flora-main  
The distinctive former main entrance.

 
That acquisition, coupled with the new greenhouses, will bring Rosa Flora up to about 70 per cent of its previous snapdragon production levels within three months of the fire.

DeBoer, also the company’s operations manager, said the response by neighbours and colleagues has been overwhelming and greatly appreciated. “That same day of the fire, we had cube vans show up, along with tractors and grower carts. People even brought food over.”

On the day of the fire, the following was posted to the company’s Facebook page:

“We are deeply touched by the many expressions of kindness from our friends, neighbours, suppliers and customers. We have been inundated with offers of food, equipment, trucks, and other forms of assistance. As we move forward in the rebuilding process, we appreciate your prayers. They have been deeply felt. Production in all our crops will continue as usual except for our snapdragon and lisianthus. We will be shipping again on Monday.”

A temporary office with sales and administration staff has been set up on the west side of Diltz Road. (The damaged facilities were all on the east side of the road.)

The company also lost 16 trucks, almost all of its trucking fleet. Rental units are being used until replacement vehicles are purchased.

Rosa-Flora-cleanup  
The cleanup effort was daunting.

 
The busy spring season coupled with the investment in the new range meant the company experienced very little slowdown in its labour needs following the fire.

The company employs between 150 and 180 employees, depending on seasonal demands. It is one of the largest employers in the region. “We have a number of employees who have been here for more than 25 years.”

Rosa Flora has long been an innovation leader, being among Canadian greenhouse pioneers of cogeneration, biomass and wind turbine energy systems, among other technologies. Rosa Flora was the first company profiled when this magazine launched its ‘Energy Edge’ monthly feature series and microsite in May 2012.

DeBoer was a featured speaker at last year’s Greenhouse Canada Grower Day, outlining the company’s leading edge work with water management.

“Our goal would be to replace our lost acreage, that would be a minimal expectation on our part,” said DeBoer, “and in doing so, we will potentially continue to expand.” 

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