It’s all about the weather

November 11, 2008
Written by David Schmidt
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B.C. industry veterans weigh in on the major influences causing a poor spring

Unlike previous years, when the lawn at Westcan Greenhouses in Langley, British Columbia, was ablaze with colour for Westcan’s annual spring trials open house, this year’s event was a much more sombre affair. “There is no good news for flower growers,” said United Flower Growers Co-op grower liaison Tom Mulleder.

The plants, I felt, seemed to bear him out. This year, the predominant colour was green as many of the over 400 plants on display brought out only half their usual complement of flowers, some even deigning only to bring out one or two buds – it was as if the plants knew there is nothing to be excited about!

Westcan owner Eric Voogt blamed it on the weather. “Everything is affected by the weather,” he stated, “it’s been cold and miserable
all spring.”

He noted that as late as mid-June, “we had two mornings at 2.5ºC,” saying “it’s reflected in the flowers.”

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Each container had its own pedestal (top); The trials always draw large crowds.
PHOTOS BY DAVID SCHMIDT
SALES THIS PAST SPRING WERE WELL OFF PACE

It’s also reflected in sales. A cold and miserable spring is not only hard on commercial growers, it’s also hard on the home gardeners growers ultimately rely on to buy their product every spring. Many of them spent little time in their gardens this past spring. As a result, “our sales are down 10 to 12 per cent,” Voogt said.

The drop in sales could not have come at a worse time. While costs are continuing to increase, “grower prices haven’t moved for 30 years” and it’s starting to take its toll.

Voogt says there has been no profitability in the B.C. industry for the past two and a half years, predicting “we’re going to see some devastation in the next couple of years.”

Mulleder is a little more optimistic. While he admits “the next five years will be critical,” he insists “our growers will find a way” to survive.
Most are family operations and will “work harder and longer” to make ends meet. He also predicts some will concentrate on spring and fall crops, cutting back on their winter production in an attempt to hold the line on skyrocketing heating costs.
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A view of the displays under the canopy.
Vancouver Centennial’ is a geranium with special national and provincial interest! The leaf shape resembles the Canadian Maple Leaf.



B.C.’S NEW CARBON TAX WILL BE A MAJOR EXPENSE


“Natural gas is being quoted at 60 per cent over last winter,” Voogt pointed out during our July visit, adding that doesn’t even count the impact of B.C.’s new carbon tax which he expects will cost his greenhouse alone $10,000 in the first year.

“That comes straight off a bottom line that isn’t there anymore,” Mulleder adds, saying he expects the carbon tax to cost flower growers an average of $15,000 to $20,000 each.

What he finds most frustrating, however, are the roadblocks Metro Vancouver is putting in the way of greenhouses who want to burn wood, which would be cheaper and not subject to the carbon tax.

“Instead, they will be burning our wood in Ontario. Does that make sense?” Mulleder asks.


David Schmidt is a freelance writer and photographer in British Columbia.

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