Dutch scheme to boost wilting flower industry takes root

Passersby stepping out for exercise in the spring sun, company employees and hospitals are being given tulips, roses and chrysanthemums under a Dutch initiative to save the country’s flower industry and make life a little more bearable.

An idea devised three weeks ago by staff at a firm that manufactures pumps and valves in the village of Maasdijk, east of Rotterdam, has blossomed into a scheme involving more than 1,000 Dutch companies which have bought more than 1m flowers simply to give them away.

A handful of Belgian, German, British and Canadian companies have followed suit in recent days. Such is the interest that the Dutch minister for agriculture, Carola Schouten, has encouraged government colleagues to get involved. “Buy a plant or bunch of flowers for yourself or someone else,” she tweeted.

“We want it to grow,” said Michiel Brochus of Van der Ende, which instigated the scheme by buying 1,000 stems for its staff and challenging another three companies or individuals to do the same. Everyone involved is asked to publish a photo of their flowers on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

“All the companies do it differently”, Brochus said. “Some give the flowers to their employees, others buy for care homes or just give them away in their neighbourhoods … while keeping a distance.”

The closure of garden centres and florists, the cancellation of shipments and the banning of horticultural auctions has posed an existential threat to large parts of the Dutch floriculture industry, the world’s largest. The Netherlands produces 77% of all bulbs traded globally.

Mountains of blooms have already been turned to compost by growers who have been unable to sell their produce, and millions more are destined to follow.

The flower industry’s weekly turnover is between 60% and 70% lower than usual and overall losses are estimated to be more than €2bn (£1.8bn), according to Royal Flora Holland, the Dutch cooperative and largest flower auction house in the world. Even the Dutch tradition of supplying flowers to the Vatican for the pope’s Easter public mass has been cancelled because of the spread of Covid-19.

“They have been hit by the crisis more than others because they do a lot of exports and the borders are closed,” Brochus said. “They were throwing away a lot of flowers and we wanted to help. We bought a thousand flowers for our colleagues but that is not enough to help so we thought why not challenge other companies to help us.”

Brochus said the initiative, using the hashtags #FlowerBoostChallenge and #BuyFlowersNotToiletPaper had proved a lifeline for growers, florists and their intermediaries.

“Some can get enough out of it and there are some growers who say they can survive this way,” Brochus said. “They still throw away a little but it is really having an impact … Everyone can use a little boost these days.”

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