A Look Behind the Scenes: AFE at IFE

By Ashley Alexander, AFE Communications Manager

In July, it’s hot and humid in Virginia where our office is located. It doesn’t feel like I’ve left Miami, where I was last month for the 2019 International Floriculture Expo. I was there for my first trade show experience and turned out to be even grander than I could have ever expected.

But first, I experienced a little bit of Miami importer business. After landing at Miami International Airport, I was taken from the passenger side to see the cargo side from afar. Here is where flowers are flown in from all over the world. Their journey to sale in America had just begun.

They were unloaded from the planes early in the morning, so they faced the least sun and heat exposure as possible. Then, they are transported into refrigerated terminals, where they must be cleared by customs and then regulated until their distributor brings them to the next facility. We followed their journeys to two different operations: Sunshine Bouquet and USA Bouquet. Both operations import, manufacture and distribute fresh-cut flowers.

This was my first time at an operation like this. Having been in the industry for a year, I had read and heard all about the process, but seeing it first-hand was so different. We walked through the huge refrigerated rooms with our loaner winter coats (I packed for 90-degree weather, not for 36-degree coolers!) and saw where each step of the process took place. Receiving, inspecting, arranging, etc. The coolest part for me at both of these operations was seeing how automated everything is. I was in awe as I watched how efficiently each bouquet is made and how each order is handled with immense care.

AFE Chairman and VP of Smithers-Oasis/Floralife, Jim Daly

The next day AFE co-sponsored a panel with Smithers-Oasis/Floralife. This panel consisted of five global floriculture experts:

● AFE Chairman, Jim Daly, Vice President – Smithers-Oasis/Floralife (North America)
● Colum Donnelly, Technical Director – MM Flowers (Europe)
● Heidi Wernett, President – China Horticultural Business Services, L.L.C (Asia)
● Joaquin De la Torre, Managing Partner – Ball SB (South America)
● Neil Hellings, Managing Director – Oserian (Africa)

Each presented the perspective on the industry from their respective regions. They talked about the latest crop statistics, emerging markets, growth opportunities, environmental threats, transportation updates, new product trends and more.

That evening, the fun continued as we took IFE to sea! We boarded a yacht in the pouring rain, grateful to see the sky clear as we cruised along the bay.

I was able to walk through my very first trade show on Wednesday thanks to IFE. Boy…is that overwhelming! I wouldn’t have known how to even began to tackle the rows and rows of exhibitors if it weren’t for having our Research Coordinator, Dr. Nell, by my side.

Walking around going from exhibitor to exhibitor was like being in a shopping mall mixed with a museum. Each booth was like a very small version of a storefront with the most beautiful displays of flowers. There were friendly faces everywhere we went and it seemed (as it often does,) that everyone knew one another. In every booth we stopped in, we were welcomed as we let everyone know about the research we are funding that will help growers like them. This always-welcoming industry made the four hours we spent walking the floors feel short.

The final day, we hosted a session where two of our AFE-funded researchers presented updates on what they’ve uncovered as far as thrips and Botrytis go. These researchers are funded through a special AFE research campaign “Thrips & Botrytis,” where the studies are focused on these two specific issues. Dr. Jim Faust of Clemson University presented on Botrytis and Dr. Margaret Skinner of the University of Vermont shared her knowledge on thrips.

My time at IFE 2019 gave me plenty of peeks behind-the-scenes of the floral industry…who knew this was the journey of a flower!

Ashley Alexander is the Communications Manager at AFE