High Gas Bills Hurt Flower Industry

Thursday, February 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — With Valentine's Day just around the corner, California flower growers are heartbroken about sharply higher natural gas prices that have forced many to cut production.

Valentine's Day is the second-biggest day of the year, behind Mother's Day, for California's $366 million cut-flower industry

``In November, when we began planting for Valentine's Day, my gas bill for this place was about $16,000. Our normal bill is only about $5,000,'' said Carlos Ortega, owner of Aebi Nursery in Richmond. ``We had to cut our gas usage and run our greenhouses cold. We were not able to set up any significant Valentine's production.''

Ortega normally ships about 10,000 dozen roses for the week leading up to the holiday. This year, because he was unable to heat his flower beds, he expects to sell just a couple of thousand dozen for that week. He was also forced to lay off four of his 11 employees.

But when Valentine's Day arrives Wednesday, sweethearts will not need to worry about running low on flowers or paying a lot more for them, said Rich Matteis of the California State Floral Association.

California's growers supply only 18 percent of the nation's cut flowers. Most come from Ecuador, Colombia and other Latin American countries, where production costs are much lower.