Spring season is peak season for the flower industry, and roses, tulips and chrysanthemums are the go-to gift for Mother’s Day and other celebrations such as graduations and weddings.
The Netherlands is one of the biggest flower exporting countries with 44 percent of the global market in floriculture trade, and the source of 77 percent of the world’s flower bulbs. Floricultural is also the country’s third-largest export sector.
But, the COVID-19 outbreak is decimating the industry practically overnight.
Royal FloraHolland is an international marketplace and cooperative for the floriculture industry. It operates four physical hubs throughout the Netherlands and facilitates over 100,000 transactions daily between growers and buyers.
In March, Steven van Schilfgaarde, CEO of Royal FloraHolland, summed it up. “This crisis comes at the worst possible moment,” he said. “Without emergency loans from the government and banks and other forms of financial support, healthy businesses will soon collapse in the bushes. Branch-wide, we call for action before it is too late. It really is a few minutes before twelve.”
Van Schilfgaarde said prices for floriculture products have fallen by half in some instances.
The dramatic slowdown in the industry means hundreds of thousands of fresh cut flowers are being destroyed. Indeed, Royal FloraHolland estimated that between 70 to 80 percent of the Netherlands’ total annual flower production is being destroyed, and the coming weeks are likely to be worse.
While the Netherlands’ Port of Rotterdam and Schipohl Airport remain open, there are fewer transport options as capacity via air and ocean is being slashed.
Schiphol Airport has scaled back its operations to focus on “core activities.” Passenger flights have been reduced significantly, but Schiphol is accommodating flights for the “repatriation of Dutch citizens, freight traffic [especially medicine and essential cargo], emergency services and alternative aircraft,” explained airport officials.
According to the Port of Rotterdam, the port will remain operational 24/7, even with the stricter measures by the Dutch government on March 23, which were implemented to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Fresh flowers are transported mostly via air, although more shipments are being transported by ocean via reefer containers. Now, both sectors are facing sizeable losses due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) said the ocean shipping industry is losing an estimated $350 million each week in lost revenues. In late February, a record-breaking two million containers in shipping capacity were idled, surpassing the 1.5 million-plus containers that were idled at the height of the 2009 global economic crisis.
Not surprisingly, reefer containers are particularly scarce, noted the ICS. Many remain stranded in China, creating equipment shortages elsewhere around the world and stressing food growers, producers and shippers in every global market.
As for ports, the International Chamber of Shipping said the ports of Rotterdam and Hamburg have been most impacted in Europe, while the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are taking the biggest hits in the U.S. with regards to reduced container volumes.
It’s not just the Netherlands that is suffering from the sudden downturn in floriculture trade.
Colombia and Ecuador are also major export markets for fresh flowers. Royal FloraHolland said exports from the two countries have already decreased by 80 percent and are expected to reach 100 percent soon, because “markets are closing and customers will stop all remaining orders from all markets.”