Greg Schuurman and his family have gone back to their roots selling flowers at the roadside, as much of their Easter and Mother’s Day floral crop has failed to find its usual markets.
Schuurman, president and partner in Schuurman Greenhouses, the leader in cut chrysanthemums in Ontario, has been feeling the pain of not being an essential service during COVID-19.
Why it matters: During COVID-19, flowers are considered non-essential. This has greatly affected the horticulture industry across the province – and could set Ontario flower growers back for years to come.
Social distancing requirements have lead to the cancellation of numerous weddings, funerals and events, and resulted in grocery retailers focusing on other essentials for their business.
“Things have just stopped,” says Schuurman.
Because of this, the Schuurmans made the difficult decision to lay off five of their 12 full-time employees and all of their part-time staff, another 12 individuals.
“It’s been all hands on deck with our kids, wives and whoever to try and get the job done.”
Unfortunately, the pandemic has come during floral greenhouses’ busiest time of year with Easter and Mother’s Day. These two holidays are where Schuurman Greenhouses make 60 per cent of their yearly sales.
“Many farmers have quite a lot of product which doesn’t have a home right now. It’s the worst possible time of year. Without being able to access your market when you do 60 per cent of your business can be a very substantial challenge for a farm,” says Andrew Morse, executive director with Flowers Canada Growers.
How farmers are handling the situation across the province depends on the operation and their target market.
For those targeting their product for Easter and Mother’s Day most of their production, time and effort was invested in December and January.
Many bedding plant producers haven’t been producing as much of their product up until now. If they haven’t started they are beginning to re-evaluate their production.
“They are re-evaluating whether they think those products will have a home and whether this will be over in time for them to sell. They are making some hard decisions,” says Morse.
Farmers focused on the Easter and Mother’s Day market are trying to see if they can get back into grocery stores. Morse says he has found numerous articles where producers are donating their products.
“It’s heart wrenching to put that much energy and production into a crop that looks so good and then, let alone, not making any of that money, but letting it go to waste after investing so much time and energy into it.”
The Schuurmans are trying to sell what they can by the roadside.
“The crop we have in the greenhouse now, we have been growing it for almost 13 weeks. Like any farmer, you don’t want to throw that out.”
They have been able to sell about 50 per cent of their regular sales during this time of year this way. There is hope that grocery stores will increase their orders as Mother’s Day draws near.
“We are just trying to be like any other farmer. Show some resilience, and try and salvage product and move what we can.”
Schuurman says he suspects this pandemic will affect their industry for the next two years.
“Are funerals going to be as big as they were? Are events going to come back or are people going to do more stuff online?”
Schuurman says there is a blessing in all of this – being able to directly speak with the customer again.
“When we are so busy with wholesalers, you are just shipping product, not knowing where it goes. The encouragement and support we are getting from the community is unbelievable. It’s been an eye-opener for us also.”
Schuurman says he doesn’t know what the future holds, even following the pandemic for the floral industry.
“I spoke with an event planner this week – she had 1,200 weddings cancelled. I don’t know what this means for us in flowers. It changes every day with the news. Are we going to keep pedalling?”
Morse says he sees opportunity for consumption.
“We encourage everyone to go out and buy flowers. Show these retailers that you do want flowers, you want to be doing gardening in the next little while. People are stuck on their properties, they may want to do some gardening and dress up their backyard.”