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Trials to be trimmed


February 4, 2009
By David Schmidt

In a sign of the times, Westcan Greenhouses of Langley, British Columbia, has decided to stop conducting spring geranium and fall poinsettia trials on an annual basis.

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 ‘Christmas Eve’


 

In a sign of the times, Westcan Greenhouses of Langley, British Columbia, has decided to stop conducting spring geranium and fall poinsettia trials on an annual basis.

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Westcan held its 15th annual poinsettia open house in November, after holding its 13th annual spring trials open house last June. However, the company will hold neither in 2009, then begin alternating the spring and fall trials on an annual basis. It will host its next spring trials in the 2010 and its next poinsettia trials in 2011.

“There’s not just enough new varieties anymore and the breeding companies are cutting back their budgets,” owner Eric Voogt explains. He notes there were less than 70 varieties in this year’s poinsettia trials compared to over 100 in years past.
The situation was even worse in the spring trials.

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 November’s poinsettia trials at Westcan Greenhouses featured over 80 varieties.


 

SPRING TRIALS HAD GROWN TO AS MANY AS 400 VARIETIES
“In some years, we had over 1,200 varieties of flowers in the spring trial but this year, we had only about 400,” Voogt notes. “It still looked good because we just spread out the tubs more.”

He points out he actually ended up subsidizing the spring trials. “The costs for us are pretty well the same but when the breeding companies don’t send you (or pay for) the same number of plants, the returns just aren’t there,” he says. “If we do this every two to three years instead of every year, it will make it more interesting for growers.”

The trials are not the only thing that has Voogt reeling. Like many other flower growers, he is “just trying to hang on” after experiencing several bad years. As a result, he has reduced his staff to a bare bones crew of 12, well down from a high of up to 50 in peak season.


MANY FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO INDUSTRY SLOWDOWN

He blames a number of factors, including higher energy costs and B.C.’s new carbon tax, which is adding $7,000 to his energy bill this year and will quadruple over the next three years.

But the chief culprit was the rapid rise of the Canadian dollar. “We were 70 per cent reliant on exports,” he explains. “We have to quote on many of these contracts a year in advance and we quoted in American dollars.” They lost a lot of money when the exchange rate shot up. “I didn’t know you could lose that much that quickly.”

Signs for the immediate future are not any more encouraging. United Flower Growers president Bob Pringle notes returns at the auction are down “about eight per cent” this year. “Our volume is similar to last year but the prices are not.”


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


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