The Half Moon Bay region was once one of the world’s top flower producers, said San Mateo County Agricultural Commissioner Fred Crowder. But beginning in the 1990s, the once-thriving industry began to falter. In 1991, to discourage the cultivation of coca plants, used to make cocaine, the US government removed tariffs on Colombian flowers, opening up the market to competition. Then, in 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, went into effect, which lowered tariffs and removed trade restrictions between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, making it even harder for local producers to compete.
“With NAFTA and the dropping of the tariffs on South American flowers, that whole industry just got destroyed,” Crowder said. By 2000, he said, the industry “started to decline. And it has declined ever since.”
From 2001 to 2011, the production value of floral and nursery crops in San Mateo County decreased by 45 % when adjusted for inflation, according to a 2015 report by the County Department of Agriculture, the most recent analysis available.
Crowder cited the introduction of online flower vendors and the move away from agriculture and toward tourism on the San Mateo coastline as additional challenges.