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Florists scramble to keep flowers stocked as national shortage boosts demand


Area florists are scrambling to keep inventory in stock as Mother’s Day nears, due to a nationwide shortage of flowers they say is the worst in 25 years.

Florists mainly blame South American flower farms for the shortage, because in recent years farmers have switched from growing flowers to vegetables to increase profits. Traditional flowers that are grown there and shipped to the United States — carnations, roses, lilies and alstroemerias — are a rare commodity this season, said Kevin R. Kitto, owner of Sherwood Florist in Watertown Shopping Plaza, 1314 Washington St.

The shortage comes as florists are bombarded with orders for Mother’s Day on May 11.

“We are having difficulty getting certain things, especially bread-and-butter flowers that we use every day,” said Mr. Kitto, who has owned the shop for 25 years. “There has been a shortage because a lot of the farms in South America, where a lot of the flowers come from, are in the process of converting from flowers to growing vegetables and other crops because it’s more profitable.”

The national flower scarcity this spring is the worst Mr. Kitto has witnessed in 25 years. The shop has been compelled to pre-book orders a month in advance. Some flowers aren’t readily available on short notice at the shop, and customers may have trouble filling orders for certain varieties.

“If it’s available we can get it, but there’s such a limited quantity,” he said. “If there’s a scarcity, some people might not be able to get exactly what they want. If someone needs a specific flower for a wedding, and it’s not available, then we’ll have to make substitutions.”

The limited supply of flowers nationwide has affected Gray’s Flowers Shop, which has locations in Watertown, Carthage, Clayton and at Fort Drum. Owner Scott A. Gray searches every day for flowers grown in South America, California and Canada, but wholesalers are often out of stock.

“It was bad last year, but it’s really bad this year,” Mr. Gray said. “One of my suppliers recently got a grower sheet from a South American farm, and everything is not available. You can no longer assume everything is available. We’re seeing a 20 to 30 percent price increase. We haven’t changed our prices yet, but it’s inevitable that change is coming. I’m going to distribute a new price list to all of my staff on a daily basis.”

One of the main flower suppliers for the business, Empire Floral Supply, of Syracuse, recently told Mr. Gray to find other sellers because its inventory was depleted.

Thanks to skyrocketing demand for flowers, prices set by wholesalers selling bulk quantities to Sherwood Florist have climbed by 20 to 30 percent in recent years, Mr. Kitto said. Besides South America, prices also have gone up for flowers grown in California and Canada.

Rising prices from suppliers have forced Sherwood to pass along those costs to consumers, Mr. Kitto said.

“We’ve been doing our best to keep our prices competitive, yet we have to continue to make a profit,” he said, adding that increased shipping prices in recent years have also had an impact.

Mr. Gray attributed the underlying cause of the flower shortage to the national economic downturn, which has made consumers less willing to spend money on flowers. As demand for flowers slowed, South American farmers reacted by producing less and planting other crops instead.

“The demand of our industry has been soft because of the economy,” Mr. Gray said. “If the U.S. economy doesn’t come back, this is going to continue because the demand for our product is going to be soft on the off times, and it can’t handle the huge peaks and very low valleys. We have to close that gap.”

The long winter across the Northeast also took a toll by increasing shipping costs, Mr. Gray said. “Shipping was tough, because it was slower and more expensive,” he said.

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