Flower growing in Chile: a market in the process of development

Flower production has emerged as an interesting business with great potential in Chile, thanks to public and private initiatives that seek to promote this industry.

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Flowers are a symbol of good taste, nature and, of course, love. But beyond this is a market that moves over US$ 44 billion per year. Though Chile’s production is still small, the country has privileged conditions to become a top-notch producer.

One of the companies that has led flower growing in Chile over the last year is Novazel of New Zealand. With over 20 years of experience in its country of origin, five years ago it decided to cross the Pacific Ocean to set up part of its production in South America. “The company realized that it needed to achieve greater competitiveness on a productive level: they were far from their markets and their costs were high, which led them to decide to move part of their production to Chile, where we are closer to the US market,” explains Matías Avendaño, the company’s general manager in Chile.

Why Chile? The country has two major general advantages in agriculture: first, its counter seasonal condition, which allows it to supply northern markets during their winter seasons; second, its varied climate, which facilitates the production of a great variety of species. “There are varieties that are better adapted to the north and others that grow better in the south, meaning that we can plant flowers from Aricato Punta Arenas,” Avendaño says.

Industry growth and challenges

Since it arrived in the country Novazel has managed to increase its exports from  50% to  100% per year and it is now working with over 30 types of flowers. The last one to be included in its repertory is gentian, a Japanese species introduced to Chile three years ago thanks to a program by the Fundación para la Innovación Agraria (FIA), the government institution that promotes and finances new businesses in the agricultural sector.

Agriculture Undersecretary Reinaldo Ruiz affirmed that this program has “opened up new opportunities for many small producers, who will sell their products to a tremendous market, which encourages us to continue working to make Chile a food and forestry production powerhouse.”

In addition, Avendaño says that unlike other industries like salmon and fruit, with flower growing barely a hectare is needed to maintain a competitive productive unit, thus allowing the development of multiple small and medium producers. However, the executive notes that “what is needed is training and to create an informed productive base.”

Despite the fact that Chile exports barely US$ 4 million per year in flowers, Novazel’s general manager insists that “expectations are great, but so are the challenges.” One of the greatest problems that the flower growing industry faces in Chile has been the insistence on monoculture, a technique that makes the business riskier. For this reason, the company and the Agriculture Ministry’s FIA, have developed programs to introduce new species, on the one hand, such as gentian, and developing native flowers on a commercial level, on the other.

Thus, Novazel currently offers Chilean species like the national flower, the copihue, as well as wicker. In addition, aware of the importance of protecting Chilean plants, the government has built 8 seed banks.  The one located in Vicuña (Coquimbo Region), one of the largest in Latin America, has the capacity to store close to 50,000 different species.

This new industry is added to other success stories, such as the global boom in Chilean berries.