Hurricane Irma causes glitch in floral pipeline

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Saying it with flowers may become more expensive as Eastern Iowa florists keep a wary eye on a supply chain disrupted by Hurricane Irma.

“The pipeline, so to speak, is drying up a bit,” said Rollie Pierson, owner of Pierson’s Flower Shop and Greenhouse in northwest Cedar Rapids.

“Our supply is still good,” said Judy Dulin, owner of Newport’s Flowers in southwest Cedar Rapids. “We anticipate prices going up because supplies will be affected.”

“I keep thinking it’s going to happen, but it hasn’t yet,” said Tracey Sueppel-Lehman, owner of Sueppel’s Flowers in Iowa City and North Liberty.

Irma delivered a one-two punch to the nation’s $30 billion floral industry. The storm damaged suppliers in Florida and the Gulf Coast region and disrupted airfreight from Ecuador and Colombia, the two big suppliers of flowers to the U.S. market.

Florida growers specialize in greenery, the supporting players in most arrangements, said Alison Irvin, owner of Ali’s Weeds in Marion. She said she receives daily shipments by truck.

“I get a lot of greenery and a lot of plants from Florida, so I’m a little nervous,” Irvin said. “Almost everything has greenery in it, so that would be something that would limit supply or cause our prices to go up.”

Figuring Miami International has other priorities at the moment, Every Bloomin’ Thing in Iowa City has told customers it wouldn’t supply roses after its pre-storm stock runs out, co-owner Maja Hunt said.

“We’re glad to kind of step away from roses right now,” Hunt aid. “This is our livelihood, but people lost their lives, people lost everything. We just have to readjust what we’re selling.”

Hunt buys orchids from Florida growers, and “as of now we can’t get orchid plants,” she said. “It could be awhile.”

Sueppel — Lehman said shipments through her regular distributor haven’t been affected, but prices may rise with demand.

“They’ve had extra people calling them because their suppliers are having problems,” she said.

Pierson and some other local florists laid in a supply of greenery before the storm made landfall.

“As long as the greenery problem doesn’t continue beyond next week we should be OK,” he said. “We saw it coming, so we did make sure we bought extra to carry us.”

Pierson said he was trying to get a fix on greenery supply, “but I have not talked to any of the greenery growers down there yet. I don’t know if they’re available to talk to at this point.”

Irvin doesn’t expect price increases on arrangements she’s already contracted to provide to weddings and other events.

“I order way in advance,” she said.

Floral imports had begun flowing through Miami by late Tuesday, according to Christine Boldt, executive vice president of the Association of Floral Importers of Florida.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Boldt told Perishable “Flights are arriving at the airport, the importers are open for business and the truck lines are starting today to haul flowers again.”

Still, the big storm’s effects could be felt in coming months, Hunt said.

“For the farms to try to cover their losses, I would expect the prices to go up,” she said. “I suspect it’s like gas — right now, the prices are going to increase as the farmers try to cover their loss.”

The season allows florists to shift to some varieties closer to home.

“We always have a little room to do something different,” Hunt said. “This time of year we source a lot of local flowers.

“That’s one nice thing, getting stuff locally.”

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