Written By: Heather Cook
The lily industry is….. well, let’s say industrial. When adoring a beautiful stem of lilies in a vase on your table, it is easy to overlook, or in fact never even think about, how that lily came to be there. In an effort to remain competitive in the global market, lily farms have had to make some major advances in their production methods. To reduce production costs, farmers have become more automated and industrial than ever before. Lily growing is a very challenging business and despite all the modern advances of technology and machinery, it is safe to say that not all lilies are the same. They are not a ‘commodity’ type of flower as it is often classified.* There is a great deal of variation in the quality of cut lilies and those farmers that pay closest attention to all the little details, from the day they purchase the bulbs, to the day it is packed and leaving the farm, are the farmers that produce the finest quality cut flower. There is a lot involved and knowing what is involved in producing a lily may very well help you tell the story and upsell this flower to your clients. A good quality lily is worth far more than the market conditions may define, and knowing what it takes to get that lily to your table can help you sell that flower with confidence not as a commodity, but for the beauty it is guaranteed to bring the beholder.
We also need to know when a commodity flower is the right item for our clients. Knowing the story behind that stem of lilies in a vase is just one step towards promoting beautiful flowers versus agricultural commodities*.
*In the original and simplified sense, commodities are things of value, of uniform quality, that were produced in large quantities by many different producers; the items from each different producer were considered equivalent. The term commodity is used to describe a class of goods which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market. (From Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodity) In other words, commodities are priced based on supply and demand, without any attention paid to the specific quality of an item. A lily is a lily is a lily. There are really very few items that can be truly called a ‘commodity’ but in practical terms this what it means when we refer to commodity flowers. Carnations are priced by grade, not grower, all carnations are treated roughly the same when pricing and selling.
Here are a few pictures from a modern lily farm, just to give you an idea of what’s involved in producing a cut lily. All farms operate at different degrees of sophistication, and consequently there can be a lot of difference in the quality of the final product. Ultimately those farms that are more modern and that invest their resources in buying only the best quality flower bulbs will produce the best quality flowers.
Did you know that most lilies are bought and shipped almost a full year before they become a cut flower? They are planted into crates and stored inside huge coolers that are kept at temperatures below freezing to simulate winter. After several months in the freezer, they are brought out and thawed and then stored in coolers that are kept in 45-50 degree temperatures to simulate spring. After some time in storage they are brought into the greenhouses to complete their growth cycle. Crates are planted in stages that should match the amount of cut flower sales volume projected for each week of the year. Farms stage lilies each week, anticipating cutting the lilies 8-10 weeks after being moved from coolers. Some varieties may take more time or less depending on weather. Most greenhouses are automated to adjust to heat and cold, also to amount of available light switching on artificial light to simulate long summer days. Conditions in greenhouses are continuously monitored. In spite of all the technical advances today’s farm enjoy, there are still 100’s of things that go wrong but over all this part of our business is a very modern industry. With the costs involved in starting a growing operation, it is difficult to imagine starting a growing business from scratch!