Inside View: February 2013

February 12, 2013
Written by Gary Jones
Christmas was well and truly over some time ago. Possibly long forgotten already for some!

But the new poinsettia season is already beginning as varieties are evaluated and new crops ordered. Just before Christmas, I enjoyed reading through the annual catch-up letters from friends. Given the timing, several colleagues gave special mention to poinsettias with their Christmas greetings.

In Canada, I heard that (in British Columbia, at least) both the total number of plants and the number of poinsettia growers were down compared to last year. “As with other sectors of the production industry, it seems that the trend for bigger producers to be getting bigger is continuing. Plant quality seemed better for Christmas 2012, probably due to the excellent fall weather until mid-October.”

There is some thought that “the short-term implication will be more on the breeding side than growing: there has been lots of merger-and-acquisition activity recently, with both Dutch and North American breeders.” This could lead to a “consolidation of genetics,” and clearly that could be detrimental to the long-term development of the crop.

Back in the U.K., an old colleague told me that one particularly large producer had stopped growing the crop completely. Why? Well, it’s not too difficult to guess that when growing hot climate species in cold northern climates for middle-of-winter sales, then “the Poinsettia problem” is rising costs, in particular fuel and labour. As he said, “fuel is the killer if it turns cold late in the crop.”

Rising costs are compounded by poor returns. In the U.K., “a good standard plant is worth around £2.50 wholesale, or less with some of the big customers.”

One opinion is that “it all goes back to the days of supermarkets using them as a ‘lost leader’ and people now don’t value them.” Certainly, ‘points’ used to be a premium product and only mildly ‘price sensitive’ (which, after all, is partly why it became an attractive crop to grow in the first place!).

Another reason in the U.K. is foreign competition. “Dutch producers seem prepared to ship them for particularly low prices.” This might be due to the Netherlands having an earlier season than some other countries, thus able to have two selling periods (early December and Christmas).

Last year, this column looked at old ideas that might help to improve the product range of the ubiquitous Christmas plant. However, options for smaller growers to ‘add-value’ might be “particularly difficult when in competition with the bigger producers who can benefit from economies of scale in their purchasing power of the added-value hardware.”

Assuming, of course, that growers want to continue with the crop, perhaps smaller growers need to be creative. After all, there are good reasons to grow the crop. For example, a Christmas crop enables continued employment for your good staff, enables continued supplies to customers who might otherwise go elsewhere, and helps with keeping some cash flow. Here are a few ideas.

Cool climate growing. Research has been done several times to grow the crop using lower temperatures in order to reduce energy (and cost) input. Certainly an option if it can be made to work, but this will always be a warm climate crop requiring significant energy input.

Find another market? OK, a toughie … unless you can create another holiday season to give you two shots at selling poinsettias.

Alternative crops for Christmas? If you do want to swop, are there alternative species that could be grown for Christmas? After all, poinsettias found their way into the heart of Christmas, so maybe there is room for change. (Yes, another tough one this!). Which leads to …

… Room for co-operatives in the poinsettia world? If the size of growing operations is getting larger, but there are fewer of them, then perhaps smaller growers could benefit from forming ‘poinsettia co-operatives’ to benefit from increasing their purchasing power and being specialized growers offering a corporate wide range.

Just a few thoughts. Whatever you do, have a fabulous 2013 poinsettia season.

Note: Information cited here was from colleagues at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and retired ADAS colleagues in the U.K.


Gary Jones is a faculty member in the School of Horticulture at Kwantlen University, Langley, British Columbia. He serves on several industry committees and welcomes comments at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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