Cold March Leaves Some Greenhouse Growers Stuck With Flowers
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Last March, the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y., reported seven record-high temperatures, including one 81-degree reading.
This year, average temperatures were nearly 14 degrees colder — 45.9 versus 32.1 — and much of upstate New York is still blanketed with snow following a storm on March 20, the first day of spring, which dropped more than a foot of white stuff some places.
Some Long Island and mid-Atlantic greenhouses that planted early, based on last year’s mild conditions, are now finding it difficult to move their stock.
“They have stuff ready and there’s no market for it yet,” said Ned Chapman, president of New York Flower Power, a nonprofit organization formed last year to promote New York horticulture. “They planted based on last year’s sales and now they’re in trouble.”
Chapman owns Sunnyside Gardens in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
“Most of us up north here have learned the hard way,” he said. “We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work. It’s just not time yet. The weather hasn’t cooperated. It’s tough to do anything when there’s a foot of snow on the ground and the ground is frozen.”
Horticulture is the second largest component of New York agriculture behind dairy, a roughly $1 billion industry that generates an estimated $100 million in sales tax revenue.
This weekend, greenhouses will be packed with customers looking for Easter lilies and all kinds of other colorful flowers. Chapman said he gets most of his Easter lilies from Long Island, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
It’s one of the first big dates on the calendar, but much smaller than Mother’s Day.
Still, for winter weary residents, there’s nothing better than browsing through a sea of colors inside a balmy greenhouse to get ready for spring.
Flower Power is especially designed to promote locally run independent firms in comparison to big-box stores that import flowers from other states. New York’s horticulture industry has an estimated 5,000 independent greenhouse, nursery, sod and Christmas tree farm businesses.
Chapman said that independent firms once comprised almost 100 percent of the retail market.
“Today they make up only 50 percent,” he said. “Our industry is facing unprecedented competition from the mass-merchant sector, which regularly brings in out-of-state plant material and sells it at noncompetitive prices.”
Last year, Flower Power launched several initiatives including a Plants for Parks program that saw local nurseries donate $26,000 worth of plants and flowers to state parks in the Capital Region around Albany. In 2013, plans call for expanding the program to more parks in other regions of the state, too.
The group has several other goals, starting in the Capital Region, which might eventually be tried elsewhere. They are:
A spring billboard campaign to spread New York Flower Power’s message.
Sponsor a floral parade float in the festival celebrating this year’s 150th anniversary of Saratoga Race Course.
Encourage state government to add “Grow: Pride of New York” to existing “Shop and Dine: Pride of New York” programs.
Last year, the group also created a branded pot to help consumers easily identify New York-grown plants. This year, more than 175,000 pots with “Buy Local-Grow Local” and “Pride of New York” logos will be in local garden centers.
Chapman said that garden centers represent another segment of the “buy local” consumer agriculture trend. Just like growers invite people to pick-your-own farms, many greenhouses welcome people to explore their facilities, creating a connection that can’t be found with big-box stores.
“Consumer agriculture is all about directly connecting consumers with producers,” he said. “This is the future of horticulture in New York state.”