WHILE the country’s production of chrysanthemums, orchids and roses remained stable, the latest report of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed cut flowers posted a decline of 4.94 percent to 8,886 metric tons (MT), from the 9,348 MT recorded in 2016.
The industry reached its peak output with 23,618 MT in 2004. However, general production has been on a 14-year-long decline since then, data from the PSA showed.
The lack of supply has placed an upward pressure on the prices of cut flowers, random interviews with vendors along Dimasalang Road, popularly known as Dangwa Flower Market, showed.
However, vendors in this area said high prices made it difficult for them to rake in sales. Like Wilma Eron, who told the BusinessMirror on July 24, she was selling chrysanthemum at P180 per dozen, up from the P100-per-dozen price tag it carried seven days ago.
Such price increase doesn’t cut with Wowie Juanson, a vendor and florist.
“It’s not okay because if the supplier wishes to increase it, they will do so,” Juanson said in Tagalog. “If they knew that the supply of flowers is declining, they will increase the price because they know that we have no choice but buy.”
A paper by Teresita L. Rosario at the Department of Agriculture (DA) website defines cut flowers as “fresh flowers and flower buds that have been cut from the plant suitable for bouquets, wreaths, corsage and special flower arrangements.”
However, Angel P. Puentespina, managing director of Puentespina Orchids & Tropical Plants Inc. (Potpi), told the BusinessMirror the Philippines lags behind its neighbors in terms of cut-flower production.
“Aside from orchids, we are losing almost all the cut flowers. We are losing to our neighbors,” Puentespina said. “Vietnam is turning out to be a good producer also. Soon, we might also be ending up importing from them. Ang Taiwan napakaganda na [Taiwan’s market is now attractive], also Malaysia and China.”
Agriculture Undersecretary for High Value Crops and Rural Credit Evelyn G. Laviña points to the absence of a nationwide program for the development of the country’s cut-flower industry. Laviña said funds for a program are dependent on local government units.
LAVIÑA said the DA is addressing the lack of a program by reaching out to players in floriculture, or flower farming, so the DA can better assess the situation. She said doing so can help in the creation of an industry roadmap.
“It is just the first year that horticulture [a branch of agriculture concerned with garden crops] in the Philippines will be given importance under [Agriculture] Secretary [Emmanuel] Piñol,” Laviña said. “So now, progress will depend on the farmers because they have to give us the roadmap.”
According to Puentespina, establishing a roadmap takes three years to process and stakeholders must decide how this will be implemented.
Unfortunately, the industry is no longer organized, he noted. There are no more associations and groups devoted to the cut-flower industry, Puentespina added.
“It is okay to have a roadmap, but how to do it is difficult,” he said. “But a review definitely is very important at this point in time.”
INDUSTRY players like Puentespina acknowledge that the DA’s main focus is edible crops for food security. However, they feel as if the cut-flower industry, under ornamental horticulture, has been left behind.
One of the signs is the receding area for cut-flower production.
PSA data, to note, shows that overall area for cut-flower production has been in decline since 2011. The PSA noted that cut-flower declined last year by 2.10 percent to 1,538 metric tons (MT) from 1,571 MT in 2016.
Arnold B. Andaya, president of Philippine Cut Flower Corp. (PCFC), said the lack of availability of land suitable for floriculture is one of the reasons production is declining.
The “best” places to grow flowers have been turned into subdivisions due to their cool weather and scenic areas, he added.
Andaya specifically cited the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program as a factor in crippling the industry.
“Government took away land from the owners who are professional growers. [They] gave it to the small farmers but they didn’t really give the farmers the support that they need,” Andaya said. “In the end, agriculture died, these farmers no longer own the land because they probably sold it, and productivity is at its lowest.”
ACCORDING to Puentespina, climate change is also a primary factor in the decline of overall production of most cut flowers in the Philippines.
“Climate change is a very big factor because the areas [that] used to be cool are warmer and if it’s warmer, there [are] more insects to deal with,” he told the BusinessMirror. “Mas malaki ’yung gastos sa insecticides [You spend more on insecticides].”
According to Puentespina, a number of the crops that Potpi grows, like orchids and chrysanthemums, “are grown under shade nets, not under nice greenhouses.”
“But because of the stronger winds, [that are] longer [in] range and more frequent, there’s a need to go into more smarter farming using covered greenhouses because quality is very important for flowers,” he added.
Puentespina believes addressing climate change can lure many investors in the floriculture sector.
The volume of investors is needed because, he added, “starting a cut-flower orchid project, [for one], requires a lot of capitalization as the maintenance of specific use of fertilizers and fungicides or insecticides is quite high here in the country.”
Likewise, “large market and volume is not present in the Philippines, [which is why] there is [also] less investment in this sector,” Puentespina said.
He also noted that the cost of production is increasing especially for fertilizers and chemicals and, due to these, the cost of labor has also increased.
DESPITE the general decline in production, one cut flower has remained stable throughout the years: roses.
In 2017, production of roses rose by 8.55 percent with 2,423 MT from 2,232 MT, PSA data revealed.
Sadly, Andaya said there are no new players investing in rose production, which he blames on the high barrier of entry.
“Roses are not endemic to the Philippines. You don’t see naturally growing roses,” Andaya said. “For this reason, rose production is costly and highly specialized.”
He said the PCFC spent about P50 million per hectare when its farmland was being built.
PCFC pioneered the country’s cut-flower industry when it started the first full-scale rose production in 1983. Its 2-hectare farmland can produce about two-and-a-half million stems of roses each year.
The company harvests flowers every day, three times a day. These plants are cultivated for seven to eight years. When yield decreases, the plants are removed and replaced with a new variety.
In terms of growing roses, Andaya said the main challenge is the loss of land that is ideal for growing flowers.
“There in Tagaytay, [plots of land are] being converted into subdivisions [and for] commercial [use]. Like in Baguio, you won’t see much there,” he said. “You’ll have to plant at the sides of mountains because there are no more flat lands.”
ASIDE from roses, orchids and chrysanthemums also showed stable production through the years.
PSA data revealed orchid production rose by 0.47 percent with 1,154.37 MT in 2017, from 1,148.96 MT recorded the previous year as reported in PSA data. Last year, chrysanthemum production also rose by 4.89 percent with 2,404.53 MT from 2,292.36 MT in 2016.
Puentespina notes a steady demand in orchids and other ornamental plants because their business is mainly focused on catering to bulk orders for flower shops and institutional sales, e.g., hotels and restaurants.
The average price of orchids ranges from P200 per dozen to P250 per dozen, while the average price of chrysanthemum ranges from P100 per dozen to P125 per dozen. Potpi also sells mixed bouquets ranging from P750 to P1,500 each.
Puentespina told the BusinessMirror the demand for these cut flowers follows the tourism cycle peaks. All Souls’ Day, for one, is the holiday that has the highest demand, he added.
Andaya also notes a steady demand for roses during regular months in the country as there are always birthdays, weddings and anniversaries to celebrate. As expected, roses are especially popular during Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, he said.
Juanson, the Dangwa vendor and florist, said sales spike during Valentine’s Day as majority of their consumers are millennials.
“Kadalasan, mga estudyante na naka-dorm dyan sa mga susunod na street ang bumibili, kasi malapit kami sa mga malalaking eskwelahan katulad ng UST [Usually, our buyers are students who stay in dormitories at the next street because we are located near big universities like UST],” he said.
BRINGING cut flowers to the market is also a challenge for PCFC and Potpi.
The increase in gasoline prices has placed an upward pressure on transportation costs. This leads to an equal pressure on logistics for Andaya’s and Puentespina’s businesses.
“It’s a challenge. It just makes you think more as a business owner—you have to be more creative on how to deliver the flowers and how to maximize the deliveries,” Andaya told the BusinessMirror.
PCFC partners with big courier companies to deliver flowers. They market themselves as a next-day delivery service.
Due to traffic and airport congestion, some bouquets are delivered after 72 hours, sometimes compromising quality, according to Andaya.
Puentespina agrees, saying that logistics remains a challenge and the main hindrance is the capital investments involved.
“Logistics is a little bit challenging,” he told the BusinessMirror. “The prices of interisland shipping are high because [our product] is bulky and highly perishable; there is no other choice but to ship by air. The other cost of imports might be high but other crops and sectors would claim the same.”
ANDAYA believes that creativity and innovation are key to survive in the industry.
“We realized that maybe we [could] tap the market better, expand the market, [and] help the florists expand the market by retailing ourselves,” he said. “We competed directly so we did everything online.”
Island Rose, the corporation’s brand name, caters not only to Filipinos within the country but also those working or living overseas.
The company has an electronic-commerce site where overseas Filipinos can send flowers to recipients within the country’s borders.
“We also continuously improve the design of our flowers and the system we use to arrange them,” Andaya explained. They are currently trying a bouquet-making machine in the hopes that it can make the look of the arrangements more consistent.
But when it comes to growing and harvesting, Andaya believes humans are irreplaceable.
“There’s no machine that can harvest roses better than a human being. Every stem that we encounter will be in a different stage, at a different height. Every stem has a different area where to cut,” he told the BusinessMirror. “Only people can do that.”
Andaya urges the government to disseminate technical know-how on cultivating flowers throughout the country in order to produce more capable flower-farm workers.
ANDAYA also pins the declining cut-flower production to the low level of knowledge and skills of flower-farm workers.
Though colleges offer courses such as ornamental horticulture, students are often taught the basics, Andaya said. When it comes to specific flowers, they lack the knowledge of detailed cultivation practice, he added.
“In Holland, there’s a school that teaches just how to plant flowers [and] how to grow flowers,” Andaya said. “People specialize on certain crops, on certain roses or chrysanthemums; we don’t have [that] here.”
Puentespina agrees, saying it is hard to venture in the cut-flower industry because it requires a lot of technology and availability of skilled people who have experience in cut-flower production.
He noted these were the factors present in the origins of Potpi.
The company started as a hobby in orchid growing by its founder Charita P. Puentespina in 1977. It grew to become one of the biggest producers of cut flowers in the country today, supplying products to major cities nationwide.
Aside from producing cut flowers in their farms, they also import from Columbia, and a few times, from Taiwan and Thailand.
The business moves toward integrating itself and, like PCFC, making more use of information technology as the firm now sells online.
POTPI has also started to develop its own inputs. The company developed its own fertilizers as well as materials to protect plants against pests and disease.
“We are going strong in our nursery and we are not just expanding in horticultural crops but also on agronomic crops,” Puentespina said. “We are producing our own soil-less substrates using materials like rice and composts.”
He added the company is “also going stronger in the production of our own materials for plant nutrition.”
“So we’re coming up with a new division for this. We’re also increasing our production of foliage materials, like what I mentioned earlier, fillers, leaves [and] greens.”
Potpi’s production farms in Davao cover an area of approximately 18 hectares. The Malagos Farm is devoted to orchids and ornamental plant production situated at a 330-meter elevation. Its second farm is at a 750-meter elevation devoted for chrysanthemum and gerbera production, while its third farm is at a 1,100-meter elevation where the oriental lilies and lisianthus are grown.
In the case of orchid production process, “You plant them, you let them grow to a matured stage, you maintain the plants, and then once they start to flower, you keep on harvesting the flowers.”
“You might be harvesting from it anywhere from five years or more,” Puentespina explained. “Depending on the farmer, it’s either they will replant a new one or they will maintain the old one.”
Chrysanthemum, on the other hand, is less laborious compared to orchid.
“It’s a fast-growing crop, meaning, you plant them and then after three months, you harvest them. And then, you repeat the cycle,” Puentespina said, “Therefore, you need to maintain the plantation of what we call the ‘mother plants’ because you need to harvest the cuttings, and you use cuttings to propagate the plants.”
BOTH Andaya and Puentespina acknowledge the youth remains the potential market for the cut-flower trade.
The PCFC’s main market, to note, is composed of males aged 24 to 39 years old. However, those above the age of 40 are more consistent when it comes to buying flowers, which Andaya attributes to their more relaxed lifestyle.
“What we want to tap is the millennial generation,” he said. “The buying capacity of the younger generation is higher than during my time. You cannot deny that there’s a big potential [in this] market, especially online.”
Young people interviewed by the BusinessMirror expressed varied statements on buying flowers.
Miguel Sunga, 20, for one, said he always buys flowers when wooing a member of the opposite sex.
“Sometimes [I buy flowers] when Valentine’s Day is near; usually when I just want to make someone feel special and remind them that they are loved.”
“The first time [my girlfriend] got flowers from me, I saw how much she appreciated it,” Matthew Alunan, an incoming senior at the University of the Philippines, said.
“With their increased purchasing capacity, [young people] are capable of growing the market,” Puentespina said. “I think flowers’ appeal is universal and I also think movements like the organic movement, which is appealing to millennials, would be the same with flowers—giving away flowers compared to artificial ones.”
Those that instantly experience these consumer and business decisions are people like Juanson.
For Juanson, the floriculture industry is neither only about the flower nor its cost.
He admits flowers cost more compared to food, so owners of small flower shops like his at the Dangwa Flower Market need to step up to promote their value-added proposition: flower arrangement.
“Kumikita ka sa bulaklak, kumikita ka rin sa pag-a-arrange,” Juanson said. “Kaya mas maganda ang pagbebenta ng bulaklak para sa amin [You earn from the flowers and also from arranging the flowers. That’s why, for me, selling flowers is a better proposition].”
Image credits: Alysa Salen