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Irma: Industry braces for impact

Hurricane Irma is expected to make landfall in South Florida this weekend, and it's already heavily disrupting the flower industry as the bulk of flowers enters the US via Miami airport. Over the last few days, some Florida-based importers have cancelled their orders at their South American growers as a precaution. Also, since yesterday, the majority of US truck line companies have stopped their services, and many airlines from South America have cancelled their cargo flights to Miami.

Florida based importers
Buildings of importers are not expected to be harmed by the hurricane. "Most have well-structured warehouses with generators and survived several storms over the last years", said Executive Vice President of the Association of Floral Importers of Florida Christine Boldt on Thursday. "There may be some businesses that will not have electricity, but then they will move their product to a cooler that has electricity. And because some of the hurricanes we have had in the past, almost all the warehouses have backup generators, so even if they lose electricity, they turn on the generators. So the products were never harmed."

The importers are mainly worried about the planning of incoming flights in Miami and the truck lines that transport flowers to the rest of the US, Boldt explains. At the time, some trucks were still leaving the airport, but Boldt assumes that when the hurricane is nearing, all truck carriers will close on Friday.

Ecuadorian flower grower Royal Flowers and Colombian flower grower Fresca Farms, both have an office in Miami, told that they sent out their last trucks on Thursday and stopped flying over flowers from their farms. "We stopped sending out flowers from Wednesday", said Royal Flowers' Tom Biondo. They closed their office in Miami at 2 pm on Thursday, and Fresca Farms expects to be closed as well.

"Importers rely on logistics like incoming flights and the leaving trucks. If there is no way to move the flowers, there is no business. So I expect most of the Florida-based importers to be closed tomorrow", said Boldt.

South American growers
Not only the US floral industry is hit, the South American is therefore too. The majority of the flowers imported into the US originate from Ecuador and Colombia and mainly enter the US via Miami Airport. Even though this airport has not announced if it will cease commercial flying during the storm (CNN reported on September 8, 12:00 AM ET), most flower shipments have been cancelled - either by the importer themselves, or by the Colombian airlines.

On Thursday, the national association of Ecuadorian producers and exporters, Expoflores, told FloralDaily that their growers will probably stop exporting flowers from Friday to Monday. However, there was no certainty. At the time, they were all still waiting for instructions and confirmation. "Nobody exactly knows what is gonna happen."

Ecuadorian flower grower Xavier Beltran of Florecal informed that all shipments that go through Miami are canceled. "The last flowers were delivered Wednesday. No one is taking the risk of trying to fly Friday or Saturday", he said.

Colombian growers also informed FloralDaily that they cannot ship out flowers. "Until Wednesday, it was only speculation about the cancellation of flower reception by the airlines at the international airport of Medellin, but we began receiving the mail that confirmed the cancellations Wednesday afternoon", says Ana Maria of Colombian flower farm El Jordan Farms. "All airlines from Colombia ceased flying cargo to Miami", says Jose Azout of Alexandra Farms. "And it will probably last till Saturday", adds Pablo Bazzani of La Plazoleta.

And many of their US customers stopped or cancelled their orders for the coming days. Jordan Farms informed us that many customers have, of their own accord, cancelled their orders for the coming days. La Plazoleta also received cancellations. "On Thursday, we received cancellations of the orders from Thursday till Saturday from about 80 percent of their customers", says Bazzani.

Supporting customers
And even though the South American growers cannot ship out their flowers and orders are being cancelled, they are cooperating with their customers as much as possible. "They need our support and cooperation", says Bazzani. Growers are, for example, holding the US customers' flowers until the hurricane is over. "Many customers have asked us to have their flowers ready so when there is green light to restart we can deliver them first thing to the airport", says Beltran of Florecal.

Others are not sending out flowers from their farm to any destination. "First out of solidarity with our customers from areas that could be affected; on the other hand, since all our flowers are destined to the US, Canada and the rest of the world have connections in Miami Airport (with the exception of Central America). We have clients outside the alert areas, who we could send the product from Colombia and other airports, however we do not want to appear indifferent to the scary situation in Florida. And on the other hand, freight costs will be altered", says Maria of Jordan Farms.

Cancellation floral events
As a precaution, several floral events have been cancelled too. Earlier this week on September 5, the Society of American Florists announced the cancellation of SAF Palm Beach 2017, the association’s 133rd annual convention, which was set on September 6. More than 460 industry members were expected to attend the convention.

Also the Landscape Show scheduled for September 14-16, 2017 has been cancelled. This decision is based on the best available information in light of the statewide dangers posed by a powerful Hurricane Irma and out of an abiding concern for the safety and safe travel of The Landscape Show exhibitors, buyers and attendees. All FNGLA meetings and FNGLA events at The Landscape Show have also been cancelled.

Back in business
Flower importers and South Americans hope and expect to be back in business at the beginning of next week. "Ideally, we would like to be back in business on Tuesday. We have a big generator, so the cooling stays on." And Boldt also expects many flower importers to be back in business soon. "As soon as the storm is through and as soon as the truck lines are able to let the trucks go again, the importers will be ready to put product on the truck and be back in business. In the last 40+ years we have never had a major shutdown of Miami, because of the strong infrastructure we have."

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