Floral pros highlight the global scope of the industry
Growers, wholesalers, retail florists and others with ties to the industry met with 70 congressional offices in Washington, D.C. during the Society of American Florists 43rd annual Congressional Action Days to highlight the issues affecting their businesses — and how Congress can help.
Attendees spoke with legislators and their staffs on March 21, about the need to fund floriculture research, reform agricultural labor, provide access to duty-free flowers, and renew the Farm Bill, which provides funding for innovations, research and disaster relief for specialty crops.
“Our legislators need to hear about the issues affecting the floral industry,” SAF president Michelle Castellano Keeler, AAF, says. “It is up to us to bring these issues to Washington and educate our elected leaders about how they could help improve our industry.”
Congressional Action Day attendees delivered on that, and took pride in doing it.
“How many people worked their entire lives and maybe they visited Washington D.C. once and took a tour?” said Fernando Ortega of Jet Fresh Flower Distributors in Miami. “But we literally got to work the democratic process. We were advocating for our industry, and that for me is the biggest takeaway because I never thought I’d do that in my life.”
Prior to congressional appointments, SAF senior lobbyist Joe Bischoff briefed attendees on the issues. Attendees also heard from Tim Rinehart, the program leader for specialty crops under the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS). In that role, Rinehart oversees the Floriculture Nursery & Research Initiative (FNRI).
“ARS’ mission is to deliver scientific solutions for grower problems to agricultural industries,” he told attendees during the Grassroots Breakfast. In his role, Rinehart oversees the Floriculture Nursery & Research Initiative (FNRI). Last year, SAF members successfully lobbied for and secured a $1 million increase in annual funding for that program.
During visits with legislators, floral professionals thanked representatives for the funding increase and asked them to maintain the fiscal year 2023 funding level in fiscal year 2024. They also urged members of Congress to pass legislation reauthorizing the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which would make roses from Ecuador duty-free; pass legislation to address the agricultural labor crisis; and work toward passing a new Farm Bill with an emphasis on research, pest management and improved access to crop insurance.
In conversations with legislators and their staffs, industry members highlighted how SAF’s advocacy priorities affect their businesses.
“As a small family business, as an industry full of small family businesses, and as a penny industry, [renewing the GSP] saves us about $20 to $25 million which is huge,” Ortega told an aide for Sen. Marco Rubio. “Getting the GSP passed will help our industry.”
Others highlighted how improvements to agriculture labor and immigration reform is needed to help their businesses — facing severe labor shortages — utilize affordable labor. Many growers utilize the H-2A program to hire immigrants, but the program involves a complicated hiring processes compliance — and it’s also expensive. Employers must pay wages based on the Adverse Effect Wage Rate, which changes annually — and often with sharp increases.
“We use a lot of H-2A worker programs — we are dependent on it,” FJ Trzuskowski, vice president of sales for Continental Floral Greens, told an aide from Sen. Jim Risch’s office. “We literally couldn’t do it with the local labor.”
Floral professionals also talked about the importance of the Farm Bill, a multi-year law that expires Sept. 30, which provides funding for research, plant and pest disease mitigation and management and specialty crop block grants.
Erin Davidson, director of marketing at McNamara Florist in Indianapolis and a first-time attendee of Congressional Action Days, says she was impressed during one of her meetings when an aid for Rep. Max Miller expressed her support for the floral industry. The aide even mentioned that she had visited a floriculture research hub in Miller’s district. Davidson felt that her messages resonated during other meetings, too.
“When you all come together like this, it has an impact,” she said. “It’s really a way for us to show off the floral industry and how big we are, and that we are a global industry. Lobbying is just a way of educating them and making an ask to help our industry. It’s another opportunity to help our business.”
See pictures of the event here.