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Flower Bulb
Buying Guide

Global flower bulb production


Abstract

On a world-wide basis, cut flowers are sold mainly within three consumer markets, namely the United States, the EU and Japan, with a wholesale value of 955, 6,500 and 3,800 million euro respectively. Each of these markets produces a high percentage of its own cut flowers, but in addition imports a considerable quantity from a number of other– mostly surrounding – countries with suitable climates and low wages. For instance, the United States imports 59%, the EU 10% and Japan 6% of their cut flower requirement. The main suppliers for the US market are Columbia, Ecuador and the Netherlands with 55%, 17% and 13% of the total imports respectively. For the EU market the suppliers are Kenya (30%), Israel (17%) and Columbia (15%) and for the Japanese market Thailand (16%), Columbia (12%) and the Netherlands (12%).

Within this global production, import and use of cut flowers, flowers grown from bulbs – tulips and lilies in particular – occupy a very defined place. For instance, production of tulip takes place in some 15 countries world-wide, with the largest production area in the Netherlands with 10,800 hectares (88%). The next 5 main countries are Japan (300 hectares, 2.5%), France (293 hectares, 2.4%), Poland (200 hectares, 1.6%), Germany (155 hectares, 1.3%) and New Zealand (122 hectares, 1%). Most of these countries use the bulbs for their own flower production and/or for the dry sales. Exceptions to this are the Netherlands, France, New Zealand, Australia and Chile. The Netherlands produces 4.32 billion tulip bulbs, of which 2.3 billion (53%) are used as the starting material for the cultivation of cut flowers. No fewer than 1.3 billion of these (57%) are grown in the Netherlands as cut flowers. The remainder are exported to countries within the EU (0.63 billion) and outside the EU (0.37 billion). The main buyers outside the EU are Japan with 179 million, the US with 147 million, Norway with 60 million and Canada with 48 million bulbs. In France a substantial part of the production is controlled by Dutch companies and used in the Netherlands for early planting (November-December). The tulips cultivated in the Southern Hemisphere are scheduled for autumn flowering (October-December) in the Northern Hemisphere and go to the US, the Netherlands, Japan and Canada.

The global production of lily bulbs occurs in 10 countries with, once again, the Netherlands with the largest production area with 4,280 hectares (77%), followed by France (401 hectares, 0.8%), Chile (205 hectares, 0.4%), the US (200 hectares, 0.4%), Japan (189 hectares, 0.3%) and New Zealand (110 hectares, 0.2%). Half of the 10 bulb producing countries use the bulbs for their own flower production and, to a very limited extent, for the dry sales. Exceptions to this are the Netherlands, France, Chile, New Zealand and Australia. The Netherlands produces 2.21 billion lily bulbs, of which 2.11 billion (95%) are used as the starting material for the cultivation of cut flowers. Around 0.41 billion (19%) are grown in the Netherlands as cut flowers. The remainder are exported to countries within the EU (1.0 billion) and outside the EU (0.7 billion). The main buyers outside the EU are the US with 153 million bulbs, Japan with 143 million, China with 60 million and Mexico with 50 million. Most countries that import lily bulbs do so for their own use. Exceptions are Costa Rica and South Korea, which have established substantial exports of lily flowers to the US and Japan respectively. In France the production of lily bulbs is mainly in Dutch hands and the bulbs (Oriental hybrids) are used in the Netherlands for the planting period extending from May to the end of September.

Longiflorum hybrids from France can be planted early (from September) and are of good quality. The lily bulbs cultivated in the Southern hemisphere are scheduled for planting from October until the end of January and go to the Netherlands, Japan, the EU, Taiwan, China, US and Canada.

Introduction

Rapid developments in communication technology and ever faster means of transport have continued to blur the borders between countries and continents over the past few years. We are seeing an increasing need to operate globally rather than locally, regionally or even nationally. The extent to which this concept and the way we work also applies to flower bulbs will become clear in the following presentation.

Information and data

International trade in cut flowers is concentrated in three major consumer markets, namely the United States, the EU and Japan (see table 1). The EU is the largest market, with Japan and the US occupying second and third place respectively.

Table 1. Population and turnover in cut flowers in the 3 major cut flower markets.

 

Population (million)

Wholesale value of cut flowers (million euro)

US

290

955

EU

380

6,500

Japan

127

3,800

Although the US is the third largest producer of cut flowers in the world, with a wholesale value of 434 million euro, it imports the major part (559 million euro or 59%) of its need for cut flowers. The US also exports cut flowers worth 38 million euro, mostly to Canada. Table 2 lists the countries and their share of cut flower imports to the US. These are predominantly countries with a favourable growing climate and low labour costs. An exception to this is the Netherlands, which is strong in the speciality market.

Table 2. Import of cut flowers to the US.

 

Import value (million euro)

Percentage

Columbia

313

56%

Ecuador

95

17%

The Netherlands

73

13%

Mexico

23

4%

Canada

18

3%

Costa Rica

17

3%

Asia

11

2%

Guatemala

3.7

1%

Other

5.3

1%

By far the most important consumer market for cut flowers is the EU, currently comprising 15 countries. Local cut flower production in these countries is worth 6,320 million euro at wholesale prices. The EU also imports cut flowers valued at 653 million euro (10%), the principal importing countries being the Netherlands, the UK and Germany, and exports cut flowers worth 470 million euro, its major markets being the US, Russia and Switzerland.

Table 3. EU cut flower imports.

 

Import value (million euro)

Percentage

Africa

327

50%

Kenya

194

30%

Zimbabwe

65

10%

Zambia

22

3%

America

180

28%

Colombia

98

15%

Ecuador

74

11%

Asia

146

22%

Israel

107

16%

Table 3. shows clearly the dominant role of Africa, and in particular Kenya, in the export of cut flowers to the EU. Here too, these are countries with a favourable growing climate and low wages, with the exception of Israel which, like the Netherlands, is strong in specialities. The intra-European exchange of cut flowers, worth 2,312 million euro, is between the following countries in particular:

  • The Netherlands (2,085 million euro), with the major importing countries being Germany, the UK, France and Italy
  • Spain (80 million euro), with the UK and the Netherlands
  • Belgium (40 million euro), with France, the Netherlands and the UK
  • Italy (39 million euro), with Germany, France and the Netherlands

With a percentage of 90%, the Netherlands clearly has a dominant role in the internal European trade in cut flowers.

Japanese imports of cut flowers account for 6% of the total use and are worth some 223 million euro. Domestic cut flower production is worth 3,577 million euro. Japan exports only 0.5 million euro of cut flowers. Table 4 lists the major exporting countries to Japan. The reason for the fairly low import value is due to Japanese quality requirements, high transport costs, quarantine requirements and the sales system (commission).

Table 4. Japanese import of cut flowers.

 

Import value (million euro)

Percentage

Thailand

36

16%

Columbia

27

12%

The Netherlands

26

12%

Korea

25

11%

New Zealand

22

10%

Malaysia

17

7.5%

Taiwan

17

7.5%

Other

53

24%

Bulb flowers occupy a significant position within this world-wide production and trade in cut flowers. This position and the countries involved is as follow.

Bulb production from a world-wide perspective, and in particular the cultivation of tulips and lilies as these are the most important.

Table 5. World-wide areas (ha) bulb production for tulip and lily bulb production ('02/'03).

 

Tulip area

Lily area

The Netherlands

10,800

4,280

Japan

300

189

France

293

401

USA

280

170

Poland

200

-

Germany

155

-

New Zealand

122

110

Australia

70

25

Denmark

56

-

UK

50

-

Israel

50

100

Chile

35

205

Argentina

22

-

South Africa

20

20

China

10

100

Total

12,463

5,600

The largest production area of tulip bulbs is in the Netherlands and accounts for 87% of the area world-wide. Tulip bulbs are also produced in 14 other countries, headed by Japan, France and Poland. Most of these countries use these bulbs for their own flower production and/or for the dry sales (sales of bulbs through retailers to consumers for garden use). Exceptions to this are the Netherlands, France, New Zealand, Australia, Chile and South Africa. For example, the Netherlands currently produces 4.32 billion tulip bulbs, 2.3 billion (53%) of which are used as the starting material for cut flowers both in the Netherlands and abroad. The remainder are destined for the dry sales. Of the bulbs used for cut flowers, the Netherlands itself uses 57% (1.3 billion). The remainder are exported to countries within the EU (0.63 billion) and outside the EU (0.37 billion). Unfortunately no data is available for sales within the EU. The major buyers outside the EU are listed in table 6., which shows for each country the total sales and sales destined for the cut flower sector.

Table 6. Dutch sales of tulip bulbs - total – cut flower sector.

 

Total sales (x million)

Cut flowers (x million)

The Netherlands

1,320

1,300

EU

1,900

630

Outside the EU

1,100

370

USA

441

147

Japan

238

90

Canada

95

48

Norway

79

60

Poland

57

29

Switzerland

36

12

Australia

30

15

Russia

30

8

China

28

14

Korea

12

11

Total

4,320

2,300

Tulip bulbs produced in France are partly sold on the domestic market and partly exported for very early planting (November-December) in the Netherlands. This is because, depending on geographic location, the bulbs are three to five weeks earlier in reaching Stage G. Bulb cultivation for this sector in France is largely under Dutch supervision, and production here is mostly the 9°C forcing range and Scheepers sports (group of single late tulips which are used by flower growers in the south of France to produce the so called "French Tulips"). The planting material comes from the Netherlands, yields are 10-20% lower and production costs are much the same as in the Netherlands.

The bulbs produced in the Southern Hemisphere are also under Dutch supervision and reach consumers in the US, the Netherlands, Japan and Canada through Dutch export companies. This production in the Southern Hemisphere (New Zealand, Australia, Chile) has increased in importance over the past few years, and production is mostly of the general 9°C forcing range. The planting material was and continues to be obtained by importing early forced tulips from the Netherlands. Production costs are comparable to those of the Netherlands. Yields are also comparable to those in the Netherlands, except Australia where the yield, because of the warmer climate in the growing area (Tasmania), is 10% less. In New Zealand the yields are better than in Chile, due to the cooler autumn climate in the former. The bulbs are used by consumers for autumn flowers (October-December) and compete with the Dutch ice tulips.

Similarly with lilies, the largest production area of lily bulbs is in the Netherlands, accounting for 76% of the total area world-wide. Nine other countries, headed by France, Chile, Japan, the US and New Zealand, produce lilies for their bulbs. Half of the ten bulb-producing countries use the bulbs for their own cut flower production, and only a small part is used for dry sales. Countries such as the Netherlands, France, Chile, New Zealand and Australia use the bulbs to supply both their domestic and export markets.

The Netherlands currently produces 2.2 billion lily bulbs, of which 2.1 billion (96%) are used as starting material for cut flower cultivation within the Netherlands and abroad.

The Netherlands itself uses 0.4 billion (19%) of this volume for its own cut flower production. The remainder is exported to countries within the EU (1.0 billion) and outside the EU (0.7 billion). The principal lily importing countries outside the EU are shown in table 7.

Table 7. Dutch sales of lily bulbs - total – cut flower sector ('02/'03).

 

Total sales (x million)

Cut flowers (x million)

The Netherlands

410

410

EU

1,060

1,000

Outside the EU

740

700

US

170

150

Japan

158

143

China

60

75

Mexico

50

50

Australia

43

41

Taiwan

38

38

Costa Rica

25

25

Korea

24

24

Poland

23

19

Canada

20

18

Total

2,210

2,110

In France much of the lily bulb production is in Dutch hands and the bulbs (Oriental hybrids) are used in the Netherlands for the planting period from the end of May to the end of September. The warmer climate gives these bulbs better stem length and appreciably more flower buds per stem. Because of the warmer climate during the maturity period of the bulbs they are more suitable for storage until the required planting period than bulbs from the Netherlands. The French Longiflorum hybrids can be planted from September onwards provided they have been lifted early. The other, not early lifted bulbs, can be planted from mid-December onwards. The Longiflorums are of good quality and can be stored longer than the Dutch bulbs. Yields in France are the same or better and the cost price is slightly higher than in the Netherlands, caused by the extra costs of transport.

The lily bulbs produced in the Southern Hemisphere (Oriental hybrids) are scheduled for planting towards the end of the growing season (October - January) and are exported to the Netherlands, Japan, the EU, Taiwan, China, US and Canada. Regarding Chile and New Zealand, the planting material (bulb size 6/8 cm, bulbils on scales and bulbs for scaling) originates from the Netherlands but the trend is ultimately to use their own bulbs for scaling. Yields are also comparable to those in the Netherlands, but vary significantly between consignments and grower. Production costs are the same or slightly lower than in the Netherlands, but transport costs to and from the Netherlands increase the cost price. The climate in certain areas of the Southern Hemisphere is not always stable which can cause maturity problems, resulting in weaker stems and fewer buds. The reason for production in the Southern Hemisphere is the availability of younger bulbs, resulting in lower storage costs and risks compared to the Northern Hemisphere. The Southern Hemisphere production also allows Oriental cultivars, that are not so suitable for long term storage, to be used for winter cultivation.

Table 8 shows the expected development of production area for tulips and lilies in a number of countries.

Table 8. Expected change in production area.

 

Tulip

Lily

The Netherlands

Stable

modest fall

France

Stable

modest fall

New Zealand

small increase

stable

Chile

small increase

stable

Australia

small increase

-

A decline in the area under lily cultivation is expected in the Netherlands and France, particularly in Oriental. The Southern Hemisphere production is expected to be stable.

Relatively speaking there is little export of bulb flowers in the cut flower markets world-wide. In most markets bulb flowers are produced locally. Exceptions to this are the Netherlands, Costa Rica and Korea. Many types of bulb flowers, particularly tulips and lilies, are exported from the Netherlands around the world, the major markets being Germany, the UK and France, and outside the EU the US. Costa Rica exports lilies to the value of 5.5 million euro to the US. In addition, countries such as Chile (2.4 million euro) and Mexico (0.8 million euro) export lilies to this market. We can expect the export of lily flowers from Chile to increase significantly once a proposed free trade agreement has been signed with the US. Besides its own production of 286 million lily flower stems, Japan still imports 4.2 million stems from Korea, 1.1 million stems from the Netherlands and 0.7 million stems from New Zealand.

Discussion

The international trade in cut flowers is concentrated in the EU, Japanese and US markets. A number of mostly neighbouring countries with a favourable climate and lower labour costs are responding to the demand for cut flowers in these markets. The Netherlands, Kenya, Israel, Columbia and Ecuador are the major cut flower exporting countries. New production countries such as Guatemala, Chile, Uganda, Tanzania, India and Vietnam are also emerging.

The Netherlands currently accounts for 65% of the total production area for flower bulbs in the world, and therefore remains the leader in this sector. As far as tulip and lily bulb production is concerned, France, Japan, US, Chile, Australia and New Zealand make a significant contribution. France, Chile and New Zealand export a large volume of their produced bulbs to the Netherlands, the US, Japan and Canada where the tulip bulbs are used for flower cultivation in the months from October to December, and the lily bulbs (Oriental) are used for the planting period from October to January.

Yields and production costs in these countries, with the exceptions of France and Australia, are roughly at the same level as in the Netherlands. In France and Australia the tulip yield is lower, and with lilies in France the production costs are higher. As regards the climate, for countries in the Southern Hemisphere there is a slight preference for New Zealand, where the climate is somewhat cooler and more stable. As far as change in production area in the Netherlands, France, Chile, Australia and New Zealand is concerned, the area under tulip production in the Netherlands and France is stable, with a slight increase in New Zealand, Chile and Australia. In the case of lily production a modest decline in the Netherlands and France is expected. Production in the Southern Hemisphere is expected to be stable.

Fifty three percent of the tulip bulbs and 96% of the lily bulbs produced in the Netherlands are used for cut flower production in the Netherlands and abroad. Major customers are the US, Germany, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. The Netherlands exports to more than 60 countries, which generally use the bulbs as planting material for their own flower production. Exceptions to this are Costa Rica, Chile, Mexico, Korea and New Zealand, which export their production to one of the three cut flower markets already described.

References

  • AIPH/Union Fleurs, International Statistics Flowers and Plants 2003, Volume 51, Institut fur Gartenbauokonomie der Universitat Hannover
  • Jetro, Marketing Guidebook for Major Imported Products, 2003
  • Maff Web site, The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan, 2003
  • M. Merino Pacheco, Un mundo en Flor, Horticultura, Enero 2004
  • H. Glorie, Royal van Zanten, January 2004
  • Dalsem Horticulture Projects, Market Study of the Mexican Flower Industry, 2003
  • United States Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2002
  • Agreste Primeur, www.agreste.agriculture.gouv.fr/et 2003
  • Defra, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, National Statistics, Glasshouse Survey: January 2003
  • VBN, Statistiekboek 2002, Vereniging van Bloemenveilingen in Nederland 2003

Table 9. Area world-wide under bulb cultivation.

 

Hectares

Type of bulb crop

The Netherlands

20,921

Tulip, Lily

UK

4,660

Narcissus, Gladiolus, Tulip

France

1,289

Lily, Tulip, Iris, Gladiolus, Dahlia, Narcissus

China

1,281

Narcissus, Lily, Tulip

USA

995

Narcissus, Tulip, Gladiolus, Lily, Iris

Japan

883

Lily, Tulip, Gladiolus

Israel

456

Narcissus, Ranunculus

Poland

335

Tulip, Lily, Narcissus, Gladiolus, Dahlia

New Zealand

258

Tulip, Lily, Zantedeschia, Iris, Freesia

Chile

240

Lily, Tulip

South Africa

200

Hippeastrum, Nerine, Lily, Tulip

Brazil

200

Gladiolus, Hippeastrum

Germany

190

Tulip, Gladiolus, Narcissus, Crocus

Belgium

185

Begonia, Lily

Denmark

60

Tulip, Narcissus

Argentina

47

Gladiolus, Tulip

Total

32,153

 
 

 

 

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