California Growers Losing Flower War

California Growers Losing Flower War
Posted by FoM on September 12, 1999 at 15:04:38 PT
By Christine Hanley
Source: San Jose Mercury News 
A trade pact designed to encourage Latin American cocaine growers to switch to flowers by forgiving tariffs is driving carnation, chrysanthemum and rose growers out of business in the nation's flower capital.
Since the Andean Trade Protection Act went into effect in 1992, Colombia and Ecuador have become flower giants while California is losing growers and greenhouses at staggering rates.What's most upsetting to growers here is that the drug tide from overseas hasn't, in their eyes, abated at all.``It's been a tough road. We're changing varieties. We're changing over to other crops. And we need to make those changes quicker now,'' said Mark Yamaguchi, a third-generation farmer in Salinas who has stuck with roses but given up on carnations.``The concession was they were supposed to stop producing drugs and replace them with a legitimate crop,'' he added. ``Now the government is actually helping them bring in that legal product -- and they're still bringing in the drugs.''Even before the Andean pact was passed, Latin American countries, and Colombia in particular, were top rivals for flower growers in the United States. Labor costs are cheaper, and pesticide regulation is lax compared with U.S. standards. On top of that, two other major flower markets, Japan and Europe, have kept the United States out with high tariffs and tough port inspections.In the first six years after flower tariffs were suspended, nearly one in two California growers disappeared, dropping from 943 in 1992 to 475 last year, according to the California Floral Council. Colombia and Ecuador, meanwhile, are ruling the marketplace for roses, chrysanthemums and carnations, historically the biggest sellers in the United States, Murphy said.The loss of commercial greenhouses mirrors the trend, with carnations taking the biggest hit. Space dropped from 17.2 million square feet in 1992 to 5.4 million square feet last year, said Will Carlson, executive director of the National Floral Trade Council in Michigan.Colombian imports, meanwhile, are blossoming. From 1991 to 1995, pom pom chrysanthemums from Colombia nearly tripled from 181 million blooms to 535 million; carnations increased from 639 million blooms to 822 million; and roses of all varieties increased from 331 million blooms to 513 million.Carlson and other trade representatives are trying, with limited success, to get Congress to understand that the domestic flower industry has become the unintended casualty of the war on drugs.``We went to Congress and said `What gives? Drugs are still coming in, and our guys are going out of business. This apparently is not working,' '' Carlson said.Citing national security, the State Department declined to take action, Carlson said, adding that the government is still preoccupied with the drug problem.``They just basically want to fight the drug war and don't want to hear about flowers,'' he said.Published Sunday, September 12, 1999in the San Jose Mercury News 
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