How the Iceland Volcano Impacted the Flower Industry

When the plume of ash forcefully ejected from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano grounded air traffic across the U.K. and Northern Europe in April 2010, travelers were not the only ones affected. The regular daily import and export of goods worldwide was also impacted, and along with the international fresh produce market, the flower industry was one of the hardest hit.

FloraHolland flower auction in the Netherlands is the central point around which the world’s flower industry operates. Approximately half of the cut flowers sold globally pass through FloraHolland, with thirty percent of these grown internationally then carried by air to be auctioned and flown once again to their final destinations.

While freshly cut roses, sunflowers, gypsophila (baby’s breath), tulips and dozens of other flower varieties sat wilting in airport cargo bays and storage facilities, frustrated growers’, labourers’, dealers’ and retailers’ livelihoods were placed on an indefinite hold. Once cut, fresh flowers perish quickly so the industry relies on immediate transport and fast turnovers. Unfortunately millions of expensive blooms destined to be arranged into beautiful bouquets in countless countries eventually turned to worthless rotting piles.

Kenya’s flower industry was impacted particularly hard by the air transport stoppage. A third of the roses sold in the E.U. are grown in Kenya, making them one of the country’s most lucrative export products. The loss per day to Kenyan growers is estimated at USD$1.2 to $2 million, with those losses unlikely to be recovered over the coming year. Alternative transport arrangements proved less than adequate, leaving the industry with no option but to call on the government for financial assistance. For some growers struggling through an economic downturn and prolonged drought, this latest crisis could conceivably put them out of business.

The worldwide shortage of fresh cut flower supplies came at a most inconvenient time with spring blooms at their best and ready for harvest. Spring also heralds the beginning of the main wedding season. Spring wedding bouquets traditionally include bulb flowers and orchids cut fresh and transported from Holland to wholesalers all across the Northern hemisphere. Florists had to settle for alternative flower types purchased as a last resort from local growers and places such as New Zealand and South America.

As flower growers and their employees return to their regular harvest procedures and the flower industry slowly recovers from what could well be one of its worst setbacks in history, the need for alternative support systems at such times becomes obvious. On April 30th, the ICAO established an international volcano task force to asses the situation and determine what changes are needed to ensure the impact of volcanic eruptions on air traffic are lessened in the future.