Tuesday, April 5, 2022

"Nurture a Beautiful Industry in Hawaii" by Eric Tanouye



Nurture a Beautiful Industry in Hawaii

By Eric Tanouye • Feb. 13, 2022 
Originally published in the Honolulu Star Advertiser

Regardless of what field of business you are in, today’s competitive marketplace requires “entrepreneurial bridge builders” to compete and succeed. The Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association (HFNA) and its 300-plus members statewide rely on export, primarily to the U.S. mainland, for roughly 50% of our revenue. Forging strategic alliances to create a win-win outcome is essential to carving out market share in the highly competitive global marketplace. 

According to a 2017 study from the Wholesale Florist and Florist Supplier Association, 80% of cut flowers sold in the U.S. were imported. Colombia controlled 65%, Ecuador 20%, the European Union 6%, Canada 4%, and Mexico 2%, with consolidation at the farm level in South America. 

There are five to seven large distribution and production companies concentrating on North America to grow market share. About 20% of the flowers sold in the U.S. were domestically grown, and California had the lion’s share with 78%. Hawaii was a distant third with 4%. Hawaii’s market share may seem small, but our current demand exceeds our supply. 

There are many factors that allow Hawaii’s small, family-run floriculture operations to compete with the giants in the marketplace. A key factor is the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources research and development program under the direction of Dr. Tessie Amore. 

Like her predecessor and mentor, Dr. Haruyuki Kamemoto, she and her students crossbreed anthuriums to create beautiful varieties unique to Hawaii. We currently have more than 25 UH anthurium varieties that give our growers a competitive advantage. The program also develops highly sought-after dendrobium orchids. The most widely grown dendrobium varieties in Hawaii were developed by Dr. Kamemoto. 

HFNA recently joined Amore in creating a professional advisory team (PAT) made up of renowned floral designers from Canada, California and Hawaii. It can take up to 14 years to develop a flower for production. It is imperative that Amore and her students get feedback on flowers in development from leading American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD) certified professionals. It is imperative that growers and designers collaborate with the scientists leading research and development to keep our industry vibrant. 

The right color, shape, stem length and other characteristics are critical to the return on investment. Applying science to the art of floral design requires the critical eye of a designer to identify the nuances of a desirable flower. Amore has studied to become a skillful and creative floral designer, and she is working toward the coveted AIFD certification. Current and future students will gain valuable insight in applied science from their professor and the professional advisory team. 

Hawaii has an aging population of growers, and we are at a critical juncture. We need young agricultural entrepreneurs to enter the field. Programs like PAT will play a key role in providing young people an opportunity at a rewarding career in agriculture. 

Two of my sons have joined our family’s Green Point Nurseries. We have 50 employees and a couple of them have been with us for 30-plus years and several employees for 20-plus years. The operations of HFNA’s membership will differ in size but when we consider there are more than 300 family-run nurseries, that equates to a significant contribution in jobs and tax revenue. 

Together with Dr. Amore, we plan to expand the advisory team to include designers from key states across the U.S. Researchers, students, growers, designers, consumers, the university and the state — all win when we build bridges of collaboration. 

A note from the author:

This op-ed centers on creating bridges of collaboration between researchers and students at the University of Hawaii, growers and AIFD designers. The designers are part of the Professional Advisory Team that provide feedback on flowers in development at the UH R&D program.

Here are the designers who are volunteering the time and expertise:


Hitomi Gilliam AIFD

Brenna Quan AIFD


Phil Rulloda AIFD

Cathy Hillen-Rulloda AIFD


Lois Hiranaga AIFD

Deborah Di Bella AIFD

Sue Tabbal-Yamaguchi AIFD, EMC

These designers are shinning a good light on AIFD in inspiring the next generation of researchers and flower breeders.