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Cut flower business starting to bloom in Mississippi

LUCEDALE — If you go into a supermarket in Mississippi and purchase a bouquet of flowers, most likely those flowers are labeled “Product of Columbia” or “Product of Ecuador.” Or, they came from California or Florida.

Yet Mississippi has a favorable climate to grow types of cut flowers and dried flowers. And some growers in the state are trying to take advantage of that by entering the cut-flower market.

“I think it has great potential because of our climate and position in the U.S.,” said Kerry Johnson, area horticulture agent in the southeast district office of the Mississippi State University Extension Service in George County. “We can grow things here that are grown in California and Florida, and we’re looking for an opportunity to enter the cut-flower market. We grow a lot of things we traditionally see in bouquets.”

Johnson thinks there is a lot of room for expansion of the industry here.

“It is a project I’m excited about because of the potential and what flowers do for people,” he said. “What we were doing in this area was a trial to see what will grow, and it is still in the very beginning stages. We are really pioneering the cut flower industry in South Mississippi. It is my hope that flowers grown in Mississippi will someday replace those grown in Ecuador and Columbia that are sold in supermarkets. We hope that people who buy flowers will ask the question, ‘Was this grown in Mississippi?’”

Johnson said flowers grown this year such as sunflower and liatris did really well, even surprising the growers. A special favorite is a variety of black-eyed Susan with flowers four to five inches across. The flower was named cut flower of the year nationally a couple of years ago, and does really well in the climate of South Mississippi.

Some flowers popular in the nursery trade such as roses and carnations probably won’t ever be profitable to grow here because they can be grown so cheaply in foreign countries, particularly those with a climate better suited to those species. But there is still a place for Mississippi growers in the national cut flower industry.

“And we are exploring that potential,” Johnson said. “It is really impressive to look out there and see rows and rows of flowers. It was great to see these flowers doing tremendously in the field trials.”

Currently two George County vegetable growers are experimenting with cut flowers. One, Eubanks Produce, found that the flowers ran too much into the busiest part of their vegetable season, and so probably won’t grow flowers again next year.

“It falls too much into our produce season, as it turns out,” said Mike Welford, marketing manager for Eubanks Produce, which grows produce on 700 acres in George County.

The other grower, Courtney Farms, plans to expand because the flowers and bedding plants have been so popular at the retail outlet in Ocean Springs on Highway 90, and at area farmer’s markets where the Courtneys sell what they grow without giving a cut to a middleman.

Lisa Wagoner with Courtney Farms said they are growing cut flowers primarily for the retail market.

“We are growing specialty cut flowers that grow well in our area,” Wagoner said. “We started with delphiniums and snapdragons, cool weather flowers for the early spring. Now we are growing several different types of celosia and sunflowers. Sunflowers are probably the most popular cut flower we are growing. We are also selling mixed bouquets.”

The advantage to consumers who purchase locally grown flowers is getting them very fresh, usually picked within the last day. There may also be some interesting varieties that won’t be found elsewhere.

Before getting into the business, the Courtney Farms family had noted that cut flowers are very popular in others areas of the Southeast, particularly Fairhope, Ala., Austin, Texas, and Covington, La. There has been similar good response from customers of Courtney Farms at the farmer’s markets in Mobile and Biloxi, as well as at their retail outlet in Ocean Springs.

“Flowers have done great,” Wagoner said. “We had a wonderful spring with the flowers. We had continued from the first to carry some bedding plants as a supplement to fruits and vegetables. But as we could tell how strong the interest was, we started carrying more and more.”

Flowers have been a great supplement to the business because they sell well early in the season before the main crop of vegetables and fruit comes on. The plant business does really well starting around March 15 running through the end of May.

“It has been a great supplement to our business,” Wagoner said. “It has been a good little match.”

In early spring plant and flower sales were exceeding sales for fruits and vegetables. Even after the local produce started coming in, flowers have remained at about 25% of the sales — still a substantial amount.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.


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