Scott Schauer, Continental Floral Greens explains

US: Western greens exports under pressure

Western Greens as a floral product dates back to the 1920s, and over the years, the demand for this product has increased significantly. "Europe is the largest market for Western Greens from the Pacific Northwest, with Salal representing 80% of the exported units", explains Scott Schauer of Continental Floral Greens. "However, the major challenge at the moment is the war in Ukraine and its effect on inflation in the Eurozone and the strong dollar versus the euro. It does put a strain on the industry here in Pacific Northwest as many companies are export only and do not have domestic sales to fall back on for support."

Salal, a wild product
Salal is a wild product as it is gathered in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. "There is no farming in a traditional sense. Salal, Huckleberry, Beargrass, and Western Sword Fern, are a few of the varieties that come out of this region. There is no use of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or any other chemicals applied that you see in traditional farming. The product grows naturally. Nature is the irrigation, and the trees of the forest are the shade cloth. In a typical forest of Douglas Fir trees, Salal and the other western greens products grow wild."

Selecting floral-grade stems is the difficult part
The foliage companies of this region typically lease the rights to pick the wild product from private timber companies and state and federal lands, he explains. "CFG, for example, leases from no less than eight large private timber companies. We lease over 400,000 acres of land. As the product is wild, when harvesters enter an area and pick, at best, they only select 10% of the mass of the wild-growing product. Being wild, selecting floral-grade stems is the difficult part of the job. Salal grows in thick patches on the forest floor averaging a meter tall. The harvester wades into the mass of foliage and, with practiced skill, quickly identifies which stems are of quality grade, reaching into the mass and breaking the stem at the desired length. The stems are arranged into the bunch as picked, based on the grade of product they are harvesting."

Popularity Salal
Western Greens, as a floral product, dates back to the 1920s. "Western Sword Fern and Huckleberry were the more popular items at this time, with Salal and Beargrass later becoming popular in the late '70s." Demand from Europe began in the late '70s. This steadily increased as bouquet makers in Europe fell in love with Salal as a base for the shorter European-style bouquets. Similarly, in the 70s and '80s, Salal overtook Huckleberry in units sold as the style of bouquets changed to what we see today." The main seasons for Salal are similar to all the major floral holidays, Schauer continues. "Valentine's Day and Mother's Day are the biggest volume seasons, with Mother's Day being the larger of the two. International Women's Day has become larger and larger over the years."

What makes Salal so special?
"Salal is special for several reasons. It has many leaves per stem. One of the early names for Salal in the US was "Lemon Leaf" for the leaves' appearance looking similar to the leaves of a Lemon tree. Secondly, being an evergreen, it has a very long life span and can be kept in the cooler for months if kept in a proper cool chain. It has one of the longest vase life of all foliage, longer than many of the farmed foliage produced in tropical climates. Because of this, it can be exported and shipped via container shipping lines all over the world. In the fall and winter, if kept in the cool chain, it can be shipped on what we call "all water," which are shipping containers leaving the port of Seattle and traveling through the Panama Canal on their trip to Europe, sometimes taking as many as six to eight weeks transit. All in all, it is strong, hearty foliage."

Challenges
Western Greens, being a 'Wild Harvest' product that is not farmed, puts the industry at the mercy of the weather. "The jet stream off the Pacific Ocean pushes rain and clouds in a normal year constantly into the Pacific Northwest region. This region is also in the cycle of El Nino and La Nina, where the Pacific Ocean heats up or cools down, changing the amount of rainfall and snow. It is a cycle where we can experience heavy spring rains which gives the Salal plenty of irrigation in the spring some years and very dry springs in other years where we see limited growth."

"The main challenge during the pandemic time period was the almost complete stop in sales. Similar to what everyone faced in March 2020. We all experienced this fear, but the market recovered."

"The current challenge in the export market to Europe is the war in Ukraine and its effect on inflation in the Euro Zone. The flower market sales are down at least 25% year over year in foliage. How long this lasts is anyone's guess. It does put a strain on the industry here in Pacific Northwest as many companies are export only and do not have domestic sales to fall back on for support. A second issue is the dollar/Euro valuation. The stronger the dollar, the less appealing or higher priced the US imports into Europe are, and European domestic foliage is cheaper. Continental's customers would love to see the Euro return to $1.20 to the dollar. For a long period of time, this was a solid exchange in favor of their imports. Salal competes against Pistache out of Spain directly, and with a higher dollar, Salal per stem quickly gets more expensive in comparison."

For 2023 he expects the problems in Europe to continue. "There is no sign of the US Fed lowering interest rates, which will continue to leave the dollar strong vs. the euro. The war is anyone's guess, and many see it continuing. The sanctions against Russia also have a continued impact. Moscow was developing over the past decade into an import-export sector for Europe with many containers per week sold into the Russian market."

And in the long term, he continues, the biggest problem faced by the Salal industry is the continual increase of wages in the US. "What a laborer must make in the Pacific Northwest in a day directly competes against the wages in the developing world. Much of the floral greens world is produced in developing nations where wages are much lower. On January first, the minimum wage in Washington State increased to $15.72 per hour. The expectation of the harvesters is to earn $150-$200 per day. This, in the long term, pushes up the price of Salal compared to products farmed in developing nations where day wages can be 1/10th of this amount or less.

We continue to look for ways to improve our processes from harvest to packing and shipping so we can continue to provide a truly great product to the market in the US and Europe."

For more information:
Scott Schauer
Continental Floral Greens
Email: sschauer@cfgreens.com
www.cfgreens.com 


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