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April showers bring May flowers in Oregon

Floriculture remains a significant ag industry in the state, according to new report

A sudden burst of warm sunny weather in late April has hastened the bloom of many flowering plants in Oregon that help bring color and cash to the state. With the blossoms come sales of floricultural production, which remains a key sector of Oregon agriculture. A new report shows cut flowers, potted flowering plants, and bedding plants are still important components of the state’s $744 million greenhouse and nursery industry, even though the numbers are down slightly.

“Floriculture is very important to Oregon’s economy,” says Gary McAninch, supervisor of the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Nursery and Christmas Tree Programs. “Of course, it’s a smaller subsection of the nursery industry, but floriculture’s sales and production value would by itself make it a top ten agricultural commodity in Oregon.”

Motorists don’t even have to stop or get off the freeway to see the splendor of Oregon floriculture in the spring.

“All you have to do is travel I-5 to see all the flowers that are blooming,” says McAninch. “The tulips and daffodils are already out, the irises will start blooming soon, and the dahlias will follow. It’s a beautiful time of the year to be driving in the Willamette Valley.”

The US Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has released its annual floriculture survey. Nationally, the 2012 wholesale value of floriculture crops increased one percent to an estimated $4.13 billion, which is the same figure recorded in 2010. California continues to account for about 24 percent of the nation's production followed by Florida, Michigan, Texas, and North Carolina. California and Florida combine to produce about 44 percent of the US floriculture production.  Notably, both states saw a slight drop in production value last year despite the overall increase nationally.

Oregon ranks 11th in the nation in value of floriculture, with 213 growers responsible for about $129 million in wholesale value– about a 2 percent decrease from 2011. The number of growers in Oregon has dropped from 250 three years ago. The statistics show bedding and garden plants with a wholesale value of $50 million, potted flowering plants at $18 million, propagative materials, such as bulbs, at $9 million, and cut flowers at $12 million. All categories are down from three years ago with the exception of cut flowers, which has increased in wholesale value about 17 percent since 2010.

A significant slump in the nursery industry as a whole caused by the national recession the past few years has impacted floriculture.

“The overall economy has been slow to recover and we’ve seen the results on Oregon’s nursery industry,” says McAninch. “I’m not surprised that it has affected floriculture as well.”

Still, the nursery industry is bouncing back and McAninch expects the same for floriculture.

People have already enjoyed some of the state's floricultural bounty, and there is more to come.

Easter would have a different look without Oregon. Easter lilies are raised in greenhouses and sold at retail outlets throughout North America, but virtually all of the bulbs that give rise to the lovely white flowers come from Curry County on the south coast and its California neighbor, Del Norte County.

Many Oregon growers welcome the public to experience the annual rite of spring flowers. Currently, the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm– located just outside Woodburn– is holding its 28th annual Tulip Fest. The popular celebration, which started in late March and concludes this coming weekend, attracts up to 150,000 visitors each year. Traffic jams are common along the country road as motorists gaze at the colorful fields of tulips and daffodils. Flowers picked from the field are sold on the farm, but most sales come from bulb orders by people have visited the festival.

Up next this month are the blooming iris fields of Marion County. Among the popular public attractions is Schreiner's Iris Gardens north of Keizer– a long-time family farm that offers tours and public viewing areas. Schreiner's has marketed the iris bloom by adding a plant sale, flower show, picnic facilities, and gift shop. The company's tall bearded iris has won numerous national and international awards.

Oregon sold 70,000 iris stems in 2012 with a wholesale value of $24,000. That’s just a drop in the bucket compared to California’s $13 million iris industry, but enough to please local customers and flower enthusiasts.

The annual Rose Festival begins with celebration events starting May 19. Portland is known as the City of Roses, even though the number of commercial rose producers in the metropolitan area has dropped over the years. The NASS survey does not include statistical information for Oregon's rose production.

Later in the year as the holiday season approaches, Oregon-grown poinsettias will be on display. Oregon has 15 producers of poinsettias who sold 675,000 pots in 2012 resulting in more than $3.2 million in sales.

Oregon still leads the nation in the production of potted florist azaleas with sales approaching $12 million. In fact, Oregon produces nearly 60 percent of the nation’s florist azaleas.

Add the production of brightly-hued hanging baskets and bedding plants like begonias, geraniums, impatiens, marigolds, pansies, and petunias– it all adds up to the color of money for many Oregon growers.

There is also the relatively quiet, behind-the-scenes production of Oregon floriculture that ends up at retail outlets and ultimately in a person's home or garden. Several producers in the Willamette Valley provide indoor flowering plants to home and garden centers throughout the Pacific Northwest. Part of the lifestyle for many people is the use of flowers and plants in their homes and gardens.

Perhaps the best showcase for local floriculture continues to be the Oregon Garden in Silverton. In one location, visitors can see a wide variety of flowers and other nursery products in resplendent display. While the garden will have a great deal to offer through September, the next several weeks could be a wonderful time to stop and smell the flowers.

For more information, contact Gary McAninch at (503) 986-4685.

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