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Easter lilies may be in short supply in valley

Updated April 1, 2021 - 12:53 pm

Certainly you remember the paper towel/toilet paper/cleaning supply shortage a year ago as the pandemic descended on our lives.

Add Easter lilies to the list. And maybe anything else with a bloom or leaves.

COVID-19 is affecting nearly all aspects of life and the customary fragrant white blooms will be a bit hard to find Easter Sunday.

“Last year all church (services) were canceled and this year, thank God, they are opening up and everybody wants flowers,” said Debra Newson-Babina, owner of Las Vegas Floral Wholesale on Western Avenue, the oldest of five flower wholesalers in the Las Vegas Valley. “And everybody wants a last-minute order, so nobody knew what to expect.”

Newson-Babina said her firm typically handles about 1,000 lily pots for Easter. “This year we’ll be lucky to get about half of that.”

Her growers in Utah and California but they have cut back for many reasons, most related to COVID-19. She says it’s impossible to find other growers to take on new orders.

The problem is affecting large flower-growing areas such as Holland and South America and worldwide, Newson-Babina said.

“Prices on everything are up and and shipping is hard. The market for all plants and flowers is tight and has been that way for six months and they expect it to last another 12 months.”

She noted the demand for anything green is way up, from outdoor varieties to house plants and flowers.

Lilies available at grocers

Easter lilies can still be found, including at local groceries. Major grocery chains lock in contracts with growers for their supply.

A check at a Smith’s Food & Drug store and an Albertson’s in Henderson showed multiple blooms available. The display at Albertson’s had about 50 plants available with price around $8.99, similar to past years.

A clerk at Smith’s said she is not aware of any supply problems.

Smith’s and Albertson’s have not returned calls seeking comment.

Some Las Vegas Valley churches report having trouble obtaining lilies for display during Easter week services.

Multiple factors from pandemic

A shortage of Easter lilies is just a small part of the issue, said Michelle Joy Howard, the 24-year owner of Flora Couture that handles some of the biggest wedding and other events in Las Vegas

“The long-term effect of the pandemic is now catching up with the gift-giving part of agriculture,” Howard said.

Florists and plant retailers are being buffeted by factors related to the pandemic including shipping cost increases, a lack of truckers and farms that have gone out of business. The budding cannabis business has seen many farms switch from flowers to marijuana production.

In addition, growing seasons have been bad in both the United States and South America, decreasing supply and boosting prices, said Howard, who doesn’t deal with lilies to any degree, but has seen her business affected by issues with roses and display flowers.

“South America has had one of the coldest and wettest years ever, creating a shortage of roses and field product,” said Howard. “When the world closed a year ago many farms shut down or fields were allowed to go dormant and then some got disease because they weren’t cared for, and many became cannabis farms.”

In addition, floral companies that specialize in bouquets have purchased more farms, so there are fewer farms for regular florists to purchase product from, Howard said.

Even retail giants such as Amazon and Walmart have added to the problems.

“They are so big that their truckers don’t have to load and unload so other truckers don’t want to do the manual part of loading and unloading,” Howard said. “Plus trucking schools were closed for a year so there are not a lot of new truckers.”

Howard said she hasn’t passed on increased shipping costs to her wide array of customers yet, but says that move has to happen soon. Her staff was 30 before COVID-19 hit and is now at 15, an indication of the year’s turmoil.

Mother Nature’s impact

Add Mother Nature to the issues, according to Bruce Greenfield, owner of wholesaler Greenfield & Company.

“The whole floral industry is facing a difficult time and you can’t tell the plant to stop growing because it is going to do what it’s going to do,” he said. “Transportation is a big issue,” with the amount of space available shrinking for floral products on trucks and aircraft.

“The shippers can make more money with fruits and vegetables,” Greenfield said, noting that at Valentine’s Day he had some shipments delayed a full week when one to two days might be normal when floral products don’t get on a flight.

Another key factor is the worldwide labor pool, he said.

“Third-world countries don’t have the medical care that we are fortunate to have and many people are afraid of going back into the fields with COVID-19 so the labor pool has shrunk dramatically,” he said.

A plus for florists who can meet it is a growing demand.

“We are starting to treat flowers like the Europeans do,” Greenfield said. “We spend so much time in our homes now that we want it to be nice,” and that often means flowers.

But supply remains a daily juggle.

Greenfield said he recently talked to Miami wholesalers who supply the mass market and typically will have 5,000 to 7,000 containers of flowers on hand on any given weekday.

“One had 33 boxes that day and the other had 100,” Greenfield said.

Contact Marvin Clemons at mclemons@reviewjournal.com. Follow @Marv_in_Vegas on Twitter.

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