Dutch flower industry continues to wither amid coronavirus meltdown

Flight cancellations, bans on public gatherings worldwide meant much of the flowers were thrown out. (AFP pic)

NAALDWIJK: Despite picture-perfect spring weather outside, the Dutch flower industry has continued to wilt amid the coronavirus crisis after suffering a sharp initial shock two weeks ago.

Growers are preserving what they can in storage or fields, but the reality is that the majority of this year’s cut flower harvest will likely go to waste.

“The loss is huge,” said Michel van Schie of FloraHolland, the world’s dominant flower clearing auction.

“At the moment we have only 30% of our normal turnover, and … this is the busiest period of the year.”

Daily sales in March often pass €20 million, continuing strong into the Easter holiday and Mother’s Day in May.

In all, 35% of global flower and plant exports, worth €6.2 billion a year, pass through the Netherlands, mostly from Dutch growers but also from African and Latin American farms.

Van Schie said problems became acute on March 13 as flight cancellations and bans on public gatherings in many countries meant nearly a quarter of flowers at the auction that day went unsold and were literally thrown out.

“Next Monday it was 50%, and then we had to take measures and we said to our growers ‘please diminish your supply’ because otherwise it has to be destroyed.”

Several Dutch tulip growers have started initiatives to get rid of extra stock, organising drive-by sales at cut-rate prices, or arranging to send flowers to hospitals to cheer healthcare workers and patients. But those are local solutions, and 85% of Dutch flowers, notably tulips, are exported.

The Netherlands’ Agricultural and Horticultural organisation (LTO) estimates the damage to the entire Dutch agriculture industry at €5 billion.

It is advising farmers, including flower growers, to hold onto their receipts and make visual documentation when crops go to waste.

“When there are no birthday parties celebrated, when there are no weddings, when there are no other festivities, there is no need for flowers in huge amounts,” Van Schie said.