Flower Industry Wilts From Volcanic Ash Disruptions

The flower harvest in Holland was just getting underway when the ash cloud brought air cargo services to a halt. Flower exporters in the Netherlands are seeking compensation for the losses they've incurred because they haven't been able to ship flowers by air freight for days.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Some industries wilted a bit over the past week, like the flower industry, which is centered in the Netherlands. Emily Kopp reports.

EMILY KOPP: The Dutch flower industry is not just homegrown tulips. Half of the world's cut flowers come through the Netherlands. Roses and other plants from overseas usually account for 30 percent of the stock bought and sold here at FloraHolland, the biggest flower auction in the world.

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KOPP: Passengers may be flying home, but flowers from overseas still can't get here. Shipping flowers is not a top priority. Herman de Boon is chairman of the Dutch Flower Exporters Organization. He says the rose industry in Kenya has been hit hard and is laying off workers.

HERMAN DE BOON: It's a pity that they have to send people home, thousands of people working there on the farms, because there was no sales. There was no air freight capacity available, and you can't sell flowers in the Sahara.

KOPP: De Boon estimates the flower trade has lost about $30 million. He questions whether officials overreacted when they shut down most of Northern Europe's airspace for days.

DE BOON: The question is now are the rules okay, because it was a very generic decision they took to stop everything, and now we find out that that was maybe not necessary.

KOPP: Flower exporters are considering legal action against some European governments. Meanwhile, De Boon says volume should be back to normal by the end of next week. Exporters consider themselves lucky. Mother's Day is two weeks away.

For NPR News, I'm Emily Kopp in The Hague, the Netherlands.

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