Alternative agriculture: Harvesting profits from cut flowers

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YELLOW SPRINGS, Ohio – Greenhouse production can be a part of a working farm.

And when the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association planned an alternative agriculture conference to focus on it, it couldn’t have recruited a better person to talk about it than John Waymire.

Waymire, whose Little Miami Flower Co., grew out of his wife’s dissatisfaction with the quality of cut flowers she could buy, has annual cut flower sales of close to a million stems on the wholesale market.

His greenhouse space grew from 9,000 square feet to 39,000 square feet in the first six years.

Waymire will discuss his business and some of his ideas about cut flower production and marketing at a specialty greenhouse production workshop OEFFA is presenting this month at Wilmington College.

Tour site. The Little Miami Flower Co. greenhouse will also be one of two sites on the workshop’s follow-up tour the next day.

The workshop and tour are part of OEFFA’s Profitable Farm Workshops series.

Waymire, who comes from a non-agricultural background but whose father grew up on a farm, bought 100 acres near Yellow Springs with his brother in 1960 while they were both still in high school to farm together as a school project.

When it became apparent a couple of years later that he and his brother would never be able to farm together, Waymire said, he decided to take over the land and farm full time.

On rented land.

He rented a five-generation farm where he and his wife, Pat, still live and where the greenhouse business is now located. The landowner became his partner when he decided to establish his flower business.

By 1987, he said, he was farming 1,200 acres of soybeans and corn. But he was not happy with the prices he was getting. And when his wife came back from a shopping trip complaining about finding only poor quality cut flowers, he listened.

He spent one winter studying the problem, and came to the conclusion that there was a real opportunity that could be exploited.

Flowers imported.

Most of the cut flowers sold in this country, then and now, are imported. Improved shipping technology has made quality less of an issue than it was when he first started, Waymire said, but there are still opportunities for marketing fresh cut flowers.

“We were immediately successful,” Waymire said, “but the flowers we grow have changed a lot since we first started.”

He expected Dutch lilies to be the main focus of the business, but said that he didn’t know enough then to be able to produce them profitably. Their first main product became snapdragons.

Expanded varieties.

He has moved from flower to flower and is now specializing in lilies.

This year he planted 450,000 lily bulbs. He also grows iris, tulips, and daffodils. Last year he planted 37 percent of his production to alestromeria, and he is beginning to experiment with the bright red gerbera daisies of South Africa.

Waymire said there is still a lot of room in the cut flower business for those who want to bring it into their farming operation. He still farms 900 acres with his son, who is also now manager of the flower business.

Although Waymire sells his flowers only to wholesalers to be resold to florist shops, he sees new and expanding opportunities in the retail trade.

Flowers cut, shipped, and put on sale the same day, Waymire said, are still fresher and brighter and bloom out faster than flowers shipped in from abroad.

Need new way.

“Florist shops are having a hard time these days because they are concentrating too much on selling designer bouquets,” Waymire said.

In Europe, he said, there is a huge trade in barrel flowers, both in shops and on the streets.

This summer he wants to take some of his less-than-perfect stems into a barrel operation in Springfield. The historical society there is restoring an old market building, and it will include a farmers’ market when it opens this summer.

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