US: Poinsettias no longer common on the Kalamazoo County greenhouse scene

Buying local is getting tough to do when it comes to Christmas poinsettias, once a common component of Kalamazoo County's commercial greenhouse industry in Michigan. Ten years ago, more than a dozen greenhouses in Kalamazoo County contributed to Michigan's production of that icon of Christmas, the poinsettia. Statewide, poinsettia production has fallen off from $13.8 million in 2000 to $8.5 million last year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Today, only two local greenhouses still grow the plants. "I'm stupid," quipped Dean Panse, one of those growers, as a prelude to explaining why others no longer grow the plants.

He makes a good case for his joke. Poinsettias take months to grow from patented cuttings that must be ordered now for planting next July, Panse said. The grower pays royalties on the plant variety patents, and must assure plants must reach exacting specifications for holiday delivery. "They're easy to screw up," Panse said.

The cost of growing all plants, not just poinsettias, has soared, especially the costs to heat and light the greenhouses and pay for workers. "(Profit) margins are slim to none," when it comes to poinsettias, Panse said. The big box stores have driven margins down, he said.
"It's not the industry it was 10 years ago," Wenke said of the greenhouse business. Michigan's cloudy skies and chilly weather put the state at "a substantial disadvantage" in an industry that has seen "labor and heating costs increasing year to year while sales prices are stagnant or in decline," he said.


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