Funding support critical in growth of Ontario flower industry

 The fortunes of Ontario’s flower industry rise and fall with the Canadian dollar and the national economy. To weather those ups and downs, both the growers and their organization, Flowers Canada Ontario (FCO), have learned to be flexible and innovative to keep their sector competitive and profitable.

“Things have changed quite a lot in the last 20 years. We’ve had to explore new technologies and production to be competitive and that’s been very critical for the industry,” says Flowers Canada Executive Director Andrew Morse.

This has meant undertaking research, marketing and development initiatives, and it is support from programs administered by the Agricultural Adaptation Council (AAC) that has really been the catalyst for innovation and progress in the flower industry, he explains, citing two projects as prime examples of the impact AAC has had on the sector.

Pick Ontario is FCO’s marketing program, launched a number of years ago to promote Ontario flower products. Because a product can be sold as product of Canada if at least 51 per cent of its development costs happen in Canada, imported flowers can be sold as domestically grown, creating confusion for consumers.

“Pick Ontario helped fill some of that gap in promoting our products to consumers, and identifying true Canadian flowers to give consumers choice,” Morse explains. “We have seen growth and gained interested and wouldn’t be doing with Pick Ontario what we are today without that early foundational support from AAC.”

Bulb production is another area where AAC project funding has been transformational for Ontario growers. Tulips, for example, are Canada’s number one cut flower but not many Canadian growers actually produce the tulip bulbs themselves. This means they have to be imported, but strict rules to keep plant diseases at bay can result in some bulbs – like those with soil on them, for example - being rejected at the border.

Although growers have no control over the product they receive, bulb rejections result in production disruption and lost contracts with buyers. With AAC support, FCO was able to build relationships with exporters and work with government and growers to identify problem areas and implement collaborative solutions.

“Through this project, we went from 24 rejections in 2011 to zero in 2015, creating more security for growers and the marketplace,” Morse says. “Projects like this help ensure the industry remains flexible in what they can produce and compete on and creates longevity for the sector.”

“The impact AAC has had on both our association and our sector is tremendous and they’ve been critical to our growth and development,” he adds.