Will budget impasse 'shut down' Valentine's Day? Some York County florists worried
For most people, the first thought that comes to mind when they receive a flower delivery is not, "I wonder how long it took these flowers to make it through U.S. Customs and Border Protection."
But this question will likely be on the minds of the local florists crafting bouquets and other arrangements ahead of Valentine's Day.
"If the shutdown doesn’t end prior to flowers starting to come in toward Valentine’s Day, that would impact our logistics," said Tom Royer, CEO of Royer's Flowers & Gifts, a Lebanon-based company with two shops in York County.
The federal government has been partially shut down since Dec. 22, 2018, because of an impasse over funding for a border wall.
Royer said Valentine's Day is the biggest day of the year for florists, and his company brings in about 10 times more flowers than usual to meet demand.
As for the most popular flower for the holiday, "Roses are king," Royer said.
Until about 30 years ago, roses grown in the United States were available to florists, Royer said, but not anymore.
"They all went out of business, so most of the roses sold in the U.S. are produced off shore," he said.
Off-shore sourcing, usually from South American countries, means the flowers must be imported, and imports must be inspected by federal government workers.
U.S. Customs: Jennifer Sparks, a representative for the Society of American Florists, said the organization doesn't anticipate a delay in processing flower imports for Valentine's Day.
Sparks said there are 75 permanent employees dedicated to inspecting flower imports at the U.S. Port of Entry in Miami, Florida.
However, the Miami Herald reports nonessential employees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Consumer Product Safety Commission have been furloughed, and inspectors on the job at the Miami port who scrutinize fresh products such as produce and flower are working without pay.
Usually, Sparks said, the customs office hires additional, temporary inspectors to help out during high-volume seasons.
"It is those temporary inspectors that cannot be hired while the government is shut down, but (customs) supervisors in Miami have been able to bring in additional inspectors from other ports," she said.
Sparks added that the regular employees are committed to working hard to make sure everything gets done.
Current impact: As of Jan. 22, Royer said the shutdown hasn't impacted his business. Two other area florists said the same.
Chris Sallade, general manager of Chas. A. Schaefer Flowers in York City, said he hasn't noticed a slow-down yet, but he is concerned about receiving his flowers late for Valentine's Day on Feb. 14 if the shutdown isn't resolved soon.
"Once the day is over, you know, people aren't buying on the 15th," Sallade said. "I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there’s no problems receiving product."
Delayed delivery to flower shops doesn't necessarily mean the flowers will spoil, said Vince Butera.
Butera, owner of Butera the Florist in York City, said the shelf life of fresh-cut flowers is much longer now than it was 40 or 50 years ago.
"There’s no reason why a good flower shouldn’t last very long," he said.
Butera said flower wholesalers and distributors preserve fresh flowers by establishing what's known as a cold chain.
After flowers are cut, growers and distributors refrigerate them at about 34 degrees. The goal is to maintain that temperature through the entire supply chain, including inspections at U.S. ports of entry and in transit to retail florists.
"You obviously don’t want them frozen, but every degree above 34 shortens their life," Butera said.
Keeping them at the proper temperature preserves flowers in a sort of suspended state of life, Butera said.
Another factor in length of flower life is ethylene gas.
Ethylene is an odorless "ripening" gas naturally produced by fruits, vegetables and flowers, but fresh-cut flowers are vulnerable to early spoilage from too much ethylene exposure.
If a good-quality distributor ensures the flowers are kept at the proper temperature and hydration levels and that they're protected from exposure to harmful agents, Butera said the flowers should arrive at florist shops without issue.
That process can become more complicated with a shortage of federal inspectors at the U.S. ports of entry, but the ultimate outcome will depend on a combination of factors, including the quality of the distributor, Butera said.
"If there is a backlog, let’s say — if something happens, it depends on how they’re stored during that time," he said of the flowers. "Is it through a reputable shipper or supplier, or are they going to cut corners?"
The federal government has been partially shut down since Dec. 22, making the current shutdown the longest in American history.
For anyone feeling stress or anxiety because of the shutdown, Sparks recommends spending time outside, going for a walk or bringing a little nature inside via — you guessed it — flowers.