The Real Poop
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Are you a fan of flowers? Think it would be fun to grow them professionally as a floriculturist? Unfortunately, liking flowers and growing acres and acres of them for the cut flower industry are two different things. Growing them as a commercial commodity can give those who've always liked flowers reasons not to like them.
Sure, most flowers are really excellent to work with when everything goes right, but they're still an agricultural commodity, like vegetables or fruit or grain, and growing them involves many of the same frustrations and just as much hard work. Plus, the pay is on the low side: around $33,000 per year (source) for the average laborer, and $45,000 per year (source) for managers.
We won't knock the work environment though; you couldn't ask for a more attractive physical environment in which to work, and if you're friendly to the flowers, you might make some real good buds.
Growing cut flowers is more intensive than growing other agricultural commodities. First of all, most cut flower growing operations grow several different types of cut flowers, both for security and to keep clients happy.
Multiple crops ensure that at least some of them will be successful even if one or more of the others fails. The variety of crops also helps the clients who would otherwise need to shop around with various growers to get all the different flowers that they need.
Variety comes with its own problems, though; many different crops means many varying requirements. Growing a few acres of Peruvian lilies, even fewer acres of gladiolus, and even fewer acres of baby's breath is nothing like growing a few hundred acres of artichokes. (Side note: if you one day have a baby and are concerned about her breath, don't feed her artichokes.)
Unlike vegetables, flowers need to be perfect—no pressure. They're grown for their color, their texture, their graceful swaying in a light wind...for their good looks, basically. Blemishes aren't allowed. There may be a few sweethearts out there who might want to take in and care for a tulip with broken petals, but not enough to make salvaging them worthwhile, unfortunately.
As a further downside, less-than-perfect flowers can't be made into flower "products." You can't break them down into parts and sell them for scrap. There's no such thing as canned flowers, flower sauce, flower soup, or powdered flowers. It just doesn't work. We tried—it was a regrettable experiment.
This requirement of perfection only adds to the intensity of the work. Besides working long hours in all kinds of weather, floriculturists need to be aware of how environmental conditions can damage their crops.
Some flowers may not like the heat of summer in particular locations. Others that grow through winter can't take the frost. In other words, they're more sensitive to temperature than your grandparents when the thermostat is on the fritz.
Floriculture's a bit more lucrative than other horticultural industries, but not by much. Why do so many people not only grow flowers, but actually seem to enjoy doing it?
The work can, at times, be just as stressful as many other types of work, but there's plenty of outdoor activity to help alleviate stress. Some of the clientele are demanding and crazy, but others can be fun to work with. It's not a bad little career if you don't mind never being able to afford a second house. But who needs all that extra space, anyway?
To an outsider, floriculture may not seem like much fun, so don't expect your friends to understand. There aren't many different types of jobs within the industry to choose from, and most of those involve basic labor. The allure is impossible to explain to those who aren't already interested in it. Either you have flower power or you don't.
Most of the people involved with floriculture are the laborers in the production crews. They do all the real work growing cut flower crops, including harvesting, processing, and eventually packing for delivery to wholesale clients. Sales representatives market the produce to brokers, wholesalers, and some of the floral design studios that want to buy directly from the growers.
The two main types of management are "production" managers and "operations" managers—though production managers tend to manage everything, including operations, for most cut flower growers. Many managers are also owners.
Humongous, megacorporate, big box factory-type growers are not as common in the cut flower industry as they are in the wholesale nursery industry (that grow nursery stock).
Floriculture is one of those idyllic industries in which the inferior quality of factory growers cannot compete. Growers of quality crops really prevail here. There hasn't yet been an assembly line that can turn out row after row of perfect sunflowers. We're sure someone is working on that somewhere, though.
On the other hand, there's considerable competition from South American growers that import (or export, depending on where you are when you're reading this) produce that's probably better than factory-grown, but still inferior to locally-grown. It's actually amazing that there's still a market for such produce. Yet it's still out there, crowding the wholesale markets and keeping prices lower than they really should be.
Imagine if other markets were flooded with cheap, inferior products. Thank goodness we don't live in such a horrible dystopia, and that this epidemic of inferiority is contained to the floriculture industry. There's nothing easy about floriculture, yet there are many advantages to it that appeal to those who choose to make a career of it. If interested, feel free to sniff around.