California Roses are some of the most beautiful in the world, commemorating celebrities, world leaders and attributes of the sky, sunset and love, for instance.
Commodity Value and Rank $1,000 – 2012
Nursery Products 2,551,200 (4)
Flowers and Foliage 985,400 (12)
Wasco is the headquarters of the Tejon Indian Tribe of California, a federally
recognized tribe of Kitanemuk, Yokuts, and Chumash indigenous people of
WASCO, Calif. - The city of Wasco considers itself the rosiest place on Earth, when you consider that over 55% of all roses grown in the U.S. are grown in Wasco.
To celebrate the fact, the city celebrated their annual Festival of Roses on Saturday. The festival is a yearly tradition that takes place on the first Saturday after Labor Day, and people come together to enjoy what the city has to offer.
People get a chance to see the parade, an arts and crafts show, and go on to the rose field tours.
Roses are among the area's top 20 agricultural commodities by value, according to the Kern County Department of Agriculture and Measurement Standards.
<p> Kern's $27.2 million rose industry ranked No. 19, producing almost 9 million
roses, according to the 2009 Kern County Crop Report.</p>
That's a lot of flowers, but it's down more than 30 percent from the 25.5 million roses produced locally a decade earlier.
That's been especially hard on Wasco, a major rose producer that had 27.1 percent unemployment last month.
"Roses are a pretty valuable asset," said Wasco economic development coordinator Danny Brown. "They do pretty well at bringing premiums to land that they lease. But flowers are a luxury people have eliminated from their discretionary income."
Well, not everyone. Consumers are still willing to splurge on cut flowers for special occasions, said Jim Daniel, manager of White Oaks Florist in northwest Bakersfield. "This past two weeks we've sold out of roses four times. Roses are one of the flowers of love, so that's what they want," he said.
But the rose's fortunes are falling in landscaping, partly for practical reasons. Roses have a reputation for needing frequent pruning and being vulnerable to pests and disease. That tends to frighten younger generations of gardeners.
But that reputation isn't really fair anymore, said John Karlik, University of California Cooperative Extension Kern County Horticulture Advisor.
"In the 1980s, some landscaper shrub roses were developed that have been really successful," he said. "They flower profusely all summer long and need very little maintenance."
Alas, many other flowering shrubs have been improved, too. Where once roses were the only choice for summer-long color, consumers now have many more options.
The industry also is coping with the phasing out of the soil fumigant methyl bromide for environmental reasons, and the transition to roses made from cuttings, Karlik said.
"They can be grown in containers, so you don't need to produce them the way they were traditionally grown in Wasco anymore," he said.
The bankruptcy travails that have affected other industries also have pruned the rose business.
The Oregon parent company of Wasco-based Weeks Wholesale Rose Grower filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this month. Weeks has a core of about 50 employees in Wasco year-round, and up to 300 at its seasonal peak.
Blackstreet Capital Management, a private equity firm in Chevy Chase, Md., purchased Jackson & Perkins and sister company Park Seed out of bankruptcy in August. They've since been consolidated into one company, J&P Park Acquisitions Inc., a national manufacturer of roses, plants and related horticultural items. J&P Park is based in Hodges, S.C., but has operations in Wasco.
Then, too, there's Hines Nurseries Inc., an Irvine-based company which has eight nurseries in California, Arizona, Oregon and Texas, and sells to the likes of Home Depot, Lowe's and Wal-Mart.
Another fund, Black Diamond Capital Management LLC of Greenwhich, Conn., owns Hines and put it back into Chapter 11 bankruptcy this month. Black Diamond owned a majority stake in Hines when it first filed for bankruptcy protection in August 2008. There were no other bidders at an auction for Hines that followed that filing.
Big-box garden centers
Also weighing on the industry is that for years, home stores and big-box discount stores have been edging consumers out of independent nurseries.
"That's changed the way the whole industry is marketed," Karlik said.
There aren't too many consumers looking for hybrid tea roses at Lowe's.
J&P Park's parent company declined to comment, and Hines' parent company did not return telephone calls requesting an interview.
But Weeks said the arrival of big-box stores had a huge impact.
"Ten to 15 years ago, when the big boxes went after this business, the independent nurseries who were our customers tried to compete on price and couldn't," said Jay Hulbert, chief executive officer of Damascus, Ore.,-based International Garden Products Inc., which owns Weeks. "A lot of them are gone now."
But surviving nurseries got creative and went after niche markets or touted expertise and customer service.
"Independent garden centers have increased their market share over the last two years, and as recently as three years ago I couldn't have said that," Hulbert said.
But this hasn't been enough to offset the decline in rose sales. Meanwhile, Target announced in August that it's closing all 262 of its garden centers.
Other factors that drove Weeks to bankruptcy had nothing to do with the company's core business, Hulbert said.
Its biggest debt burden is leases that International Garden Products inherited, he said.
And, of course, there's the housing crisis, which is beyond Weeks' control.
"I was in Wasco not too long ago, well, just outside it because we're on the outskirts, and just driving from our facility into the city to have lunch I passed three housing developments that looked like they'd been abandoned. There was just a model home and nothing else.
"Every one of those landscapes and all the landscapes that are in foreclosure, in California and all across the United States, is land where roses might have been planted."
Against that backdrop, a lot of rose growers have scaled back plantings dramatically.
Rose crops are so scarce that Fiorini, of Rosetree Nurseries, is worried there will be a rose shortage next year.
She's not sure what impact, if any, that will have on prices. She's inclined to think none.
"I just think, when people go to the garden centers and don't find roses, they'll just switch to another shrub," Fiorini said.
Roses are tied in bundles after digging. They are then loaded into wagons to be transported to the processing area.