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The floral industry is one of the major industries in many developing and underdeveloped countries. Floriculture as an industry began in the late 19th century in England, where flowers were grown on a large scale on the vast estates. The present day floral industry is a dynamic, global, fast-growing industry, which has achieved significant growth rates during the past few decades. In the 1950s, the global flower trade was less than US$3 billion. By 1994, it had grown to US$100 billion. In recent years, the floral industry has grown six percent annually, while the global trade volume in 2003 was US$101.84 billion.
The floral industry essentially consists of three major components: the growers, the wholesalers and the retailers whose businesses are quite intermingled. The recent trends are more towards eliminating the intermediaries, the wholesalers between the growers and the retailers, so that the flowers are made available at considerably low prices.
Some flowers are sent packed flat in boxes. This enables large amounts of flowers to be packed in small spaces like aircraft holds. Other flowers cannot survive for long periods out of water such as orchids, gerberas (gerber daisies) and water lilies. These are either sent with their own sealed water container (called picks) on each stem end - for more expensive or tropical flowers - or are transported in buckets of water (This method of transport in water is often referred to as "Procona"). The latter method extends the life of flowers and reduces labor time as flowers are ready for sale, but obviously also reduces the amount of flowers that can be transported as they are much heavier than dry-packed flowers and hence air transportation charges are higher.
Flowers take a number of routes to the consumer, depending on where they are grown and how they are to be sold. Some growers cut and pack flowers at their nurseries, sending them directly out to the consumer by mail order. Some flowers are sent to packing companies, who grade the flowers and arrange them in bunches for sale to supermarkets or to deliver by mail order. Some flowers are graded and sleeved by the growers and sold at wholesale flower markets; the wholesalers then sell them on to florists who condition and arrange the flowers for the consumer.
Traditionally, the center of flower production has been near their largest consumers: the developed world, where Japan, Western Europe and North America were both major producers and consumers. The major consumer markets being Germany (22 percent), the United States (15 percent), France (10 percent), the United Kingdom (10 percent), the Netherlands (9 percent), Japan (6 percent), Italy (5 percent), and Switzerland (5 percent).
The Netherlands remains the center of production for the European floral market, as well as a major international supplier to other continents. The flower auction at Aalsmeer is the largest flower market in the world. Since the mid-1970s, the production and distribution of cut flowers in Netherlands has burgeoned. In 1995, Dutch growers produced over 8 billion blooms and the flower auctions collectively traded more than 5.4 billion guilders (about $3.2 billion) in cut flowers and potted plants, contributing over 4 billion guilders annually to the Dutch balance of trade.
Experts believe that the production focus has moved from traditional growers to countries where the climates are better and production and labor costs are lower. This has resulted in a paradigm shift in the floral industry. The Netherlands, for instance, has already shifted attention from flower production to flower trading, though it plays an important role still in the development of floricultural genetics. The new centers of production are typically developing countries like Colombia (second largest exporter in the world and with a market of more than 40 years old), Ecuador, Ethiopia, Kenya, and India. Other players in this global industry are Israel, South Africa, Australia, Thailand and Malaysia. New Zealand, due to its position in the Southern Hemisphere, is a common source for seasonal flowers that are typically unavailable in Europe and North America.
In Africa, Kenya is the largest exporter, supplying a large percentage of Europe's flowers, the industry there is represented by the Kenya Flower Council.
In South America, Colombia is the leading flower producer and exporter accounting for 59% of all flowers imported to The United States in 2006. The United States imports 82% of its flowers. Growers in the United States state that 3 out of 4 flowers in the United States are grown outside the US with Colombia being the biggest exporter. The United States signed a free trade agreement with Colombia and that has lowered the cost Colombian flowers in the United States. Ecuador has become, in recent years, the leading South American rose producer and is well known throughout the world for its high quality, large headed roses due to the high altitude location of its rose farms.