As It Happens

Dutch flower exporter destroys millions of tulips as market collapses under COVID-19

With flower shops closed and events like weddings and funerals cancelled, the flower market in the Netherlands has effectively collapsed since mid-March. And some growers like Jan de Boer have been forced to destroy millions of their flowers.

Exporter Jan de Boer says Canada is one of the few countries still importing his flowers

The flower market has collapsed as countries shut down during COVID-19 leaving many growers with no choice but to destroy their plants. (Sophie Mignon/AFP/Getty Images)


Jan de Boer has run out of options and is destroying his flowers.

With florists closed, and most celebrations cancelled in cities across the globe because of COVID-19, the demand for flowers has seen a drastic downturn.

Now tulip growers like de Boer in the Netherlands say they have had to destroy millions of their flowers.

"The market has collapsed," Jan de Boer told As It Happens guest host Piya Chattopadhyay. "Per month, we are throwing away a billion stems of flowers."

De Boer is owner of Barendsen flower exporting company. The company is located in the town of Aalsmeer, which is home to one of the biggest flower auction houses in the world. 

An aerial photo of a tulip fields in the Netherlands. Jan de Boer says he has had to throw away millions of his tulips as the market collapses during COVID-19. (Jerry Lampen/AFP/Getty Images)

He was born into the business.

"I'm born between some peonies and roses — it was about 57 years ago," de Boer said.

But since mid-March, de Boer says companies like his that supply countries across the globe with spring blooms have nearly all disappeared for the time being.

"It's all depending on when the markets are to be open again — in France, in Italy, in Spain," de Boer said. "All the flower shops are closed by the law that people cannot do the shopping over there anymore."

The first few weeks we were all bringing them to the hospitals, to elderly homes, to say thank you to the people who take care of other people.'- Jan de Boer, flower exporter

Initially, de Boer found creative ways to give away his flowers as sales started to plummet. 

"The first few weeks we were all bringing them to the hospitals, to elderly homes, to say thank you to the people who take care of other people," de Boer said. "But that, of course, is not the solution of our business."

In terms of lost revenue, de Boer has dramatically cut back his operations and to be safe has sent most of his staff home. He says it's hard to fathom how much the industry has already lost.

Jan de Boer says some companies have been able to weather the storm but for many like him this is the peak season for selling flowers. (Koen Van Weel/ANP/AFP/Getty Images)

"It is almost a billion per month in Euros, when we count flowers and pot plants together," de Boer said.

He estimates there are approximately 7,000 companies in Holland's plant industry. While some have weathered the storm because of the variety of flowers they grow, for many, this is their peak season.

"No family is in the same position. We are all in a different situation," de Boer said. "My situation is I export to 40 countries and, at the moment, 35 of them — they are closed." 

Flowers are handled inside Royal Flora Holland Aalsmeer, the largest trading and distribution centre for plants and flowers in the world. The Netherlands has long been famous for tulips, and flowers remain a vital part of the Dutch economy, with seven billion euros a year in sales. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

In fact, de Boer says Canada is one of the few remaining countries with cities still importing flowers from his company, more specifically, Toronto and Calgary.

"We have one man. He is driving around. We call it Flying Canadian," de Boer said. "He was the only importer last week in Toronto and he was selling still the tulips from Amsterdam."

De Boer points out that some Canadian florists may still be stocking flowers from local growers. But he is worried that even these last few contracts will dry up as COVID-19 continues to shut down markets.

Ultimately, de Boer says he is banking on the government to step in to help his business stay afloat.

"We are very well supported by the Dutch government. Still, many things have to be settled, but for a big part we have a big loss and for the other part we can get compensation out of Holland," de Boer said.

Written by Tayo Bero and John McGill. Interview produced by Tayo Bero.

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