The State of Jalisco in Mexico, where tequila is distilled, is now the place where roses are grown too. Last year, after 9 months of repairing, new life was blown into a 25 ha abandoned rose farm, and it was named Oleoflor. It is part of the family business group Oleomex and currently grows roses in a 2 ha renewed greenhouse. After conquering part of the national market, this new farm is eager to export its products to the US, followed by Canada and even Europe. But first things first: Oleoflor’s first roses are being harvested this month and they are happy with the quality.
María Pérez with the rose plants that were just planted
When the passion was born
Owner of the farm is María Pérez, a passionate horticulturalist and entrepreneur. However, she was not raised with this passion for flowers. Coming out of a family business with all industrial engineers, everyone, including herself, always imagined her career in the engineering industry. However, one day, at the age of 14, Maria saw a floral magazine with the Dutch auction on the front page and her love for flowers was born. "From that time onwards, I wanted to establish my own 'flower factory'", she laughs. In the years after, she followed horticultural programs and studies in floriculture. After obtaining her masters degree in Engineering, she followed more floricultural courses in the Netherlands.
Abandoned farm, but best conditions to grow roses
And then, in 2018, the opportunity to start up her own 'flower factory' arose. 1.5 hours from Guadalajara, she found an abundant rose farm in La Manzanilla de la Paz and she fell in love immediately. "The conditions for rose cultivation are very good; the altitude is above 2,000 meters, the area has warm days and cold nights with an average annual temperature of 26 °C. I quickly realized that it is the perfect place to grow roses in the best conditions possible." She took the next step, contacted the owners, and convinced her family to invest in the business. She succeeded, and in 2019 the farm was purchased.
Repairing the farm
The farm was abandoned for 15 years, so a lot of work had to be done to clean, repair and renew the farm. "We tried to reuse as much of the materials that were in good shape as possible, but as everything was so old and damaged, we basically started all over again." With the support of her family and the help of several greenhouse builders, they finished the project in just 9 months.
When the greenhouse was finished, it was time to start planting the roses, which they received from breeders De Ruiter and Dümmen Orange. "We planted standard, spray and garden roses, in total 41 varieties. And by buying the licenses to grow the varieties, the representatives of these breeding companies helped us a lot along the way."
Pleased with the quality
At Oleoflor, the first commercial flowers will be harvested this month, and Pérez is pleased about the quality. "We already did some trials and in general, we notice that the quality is high. The altitude combined with the good temperature and our good agricultural practices results in roses, depending on variety of course, with a stem length of about 60-70 cm, a head size of 6-7 cm and a vase life of 10-12+ days."
People, product and environment
Next to supplying a good product, Pérez attaches great importance to people and environment. "We want to grow a high-quality product but at the same time, we want to take care of the environment. We therefore try to strictly follow good agricultural practices and we see it back in the quality of the crop as well." On top of that, we also want to offer jobs to the community. With this type of work, we offer jobs not only for men, but also for women." Currently, they have 25 people working at the farm and they are looking at obtaining a Rainforest Alliance and a GlobalGAP certification.
The total size of the farm is 25 ha, so plenty of room to expand the greenhouse. And according to Pérez, this is also their future goal. "We first want to put our product on the national market - we just purchased a refrigerated truck to ship the flowers to Guadalajara and we are looking into the options of opening a DC in Guadalajara. Then the goal is to export to the US, then to Canada, and eventually to Europe. Along with expanding the markets, we will expand the greenhouse as well."
And regarding their first step abroad, exporting to the US, her expectations are high. "Colombia and Ecuador will be our biggest competitors as most of the roses imported into the US are grown in these countries. However, distance-wise, we are closer and therefore able to ship our roses by refrigerated truck. On top of that, we are located closer (about 6 hours) to the US border than the majority of the Mexican rose farms, which are situated close to Mexico City. And as the global carbon footprint is becoming an increasingly important issue these days, I think our products will become a very interesting option."
Starting up a business during COVID-19
Of course, COVID-19 cannot be left out in this article. How is it to start up a company during this pandemic? Pérez: "Of course, we had to adjust our pre-thought procedures, but all in all, we are going through it quite well, mainly because we are not selling the flowers yet. We see that the flower farms in Mexico have been hit hard and several even went out of business. This in turn offers opportunities for us as the demand, that will return, has to be met."