What started in 1956 with my grandfather collecting wild orchids while deer hunting in the Everglades has turned into a multi-generation, family-owned orchid growing operation with 150 employees. Now, you can find our orchids, gardening products and other commodities across the nation on the shelves of home improvement, big box and independent garden center retailers.
As the current CEO of Sun Bulb Co. (doing business as Better-Gro®), I am proud to be a part of the more than 266,000 men and women who work in Florida’s nursery and landscape industry, which is critical to Florida’s economy – delivering nearly $30 billion in annual economic impact.
Unfortunately, Florida’s nurseries, growers and landscapers were hit hard by Hurricane Ian during a critical time in the growing season. The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) estimates $1.5 billion in damages to Florida’s agriculture industry. Such widespread devastation requires support from partners at all levels – local, state and federal – to recover and rebuild.
Our operation alone took a massive blow from Hurricane Ian resulting in widespread damage to our orchids, packing facilities and greenhouses. In all, we are facing roughly $7.5 million in damages. More than 400,000 of our orchids had to be discarded and many more will experience delayed growth due to the stress they sustained from the hurricane. Our newest building, a 50,000 square-foot packing facility, was completely destroyed.
Our greenhouses incurred some of the costliest damage with the roof of every greenhouse blown to the ground and some of the infrastructure completely collapsed and totaled. Greenhouses are vital to the operations of Florida’s many businesses in the nursery and landscape industry. That’s because greenhouses give growers the ability to grow crops that cannot be exposed to direct sunlight and or other natural elements and have specific temperature and humidity needs.
Greenhouses are critically important to our efforts to restore Florida’s iconic citrus industry. At CitriSun Nurseries (a Sun Bulb managed sister company), we have nearly 500,000 young citrus trees getting ready to replant in Florida’s citrus groves. Greenhouses protect these young trees from invasive pests and disease, like citrus greening and canker, that are harming groves throughout the state. Citrus growers depend on our healthy young trees to replant their suffering groves and restore their business operations through solid set plantings.
Despite the importance of greenhouses to our nation’s food supply, insurance companies refuse to insure greenhouses. This leaves many growers in Florida’s nursery and landscape industry in an extremely vulnerable position – especially during hurricane season.
I am a sixth-generation Floridian. I am no stranger to the adversity that comes with operating an agriculture business in a hurricane prone area. And at Sun Bulb Co., we aren’t in the business of making excuses. We will work our tails off to continue supplying retailers with beautiful orchids for everyday consumers to purchase and enjoy.
But, like many industries struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, we need help from our federal government to support our road to recovery. Losing Florida’s nurseries, growers and landscapers to Hurricane Ian is not an option. Without support, the industry losses could result in widespread impacts on jobs, communities, and quality of life in the Sunshine State.
I urge Congress to pass disaster relief and support the recovery of Florida’s vital nursery and landscape industry. We are a resilient bunch. It won’t be an easy road, but we will build back, and we will continue to deliver the breathtaking orchids that bring joy to millions of Americans.
Rod Hollingsworth is the President and CEO of Sun Bulb Co. (doing business as Better-Gro®), based in Arcadia and established in 1956 by his grandfather. He’s a member of the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association.