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Better Weather Makes For Rosier Valentine’s Day Crop

February 13, 1996

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ When roses are red, growers aren’t blue.

Last year’s gloomy skies took the bloom out of California’s rose crop, but this winter’s brighter weather has growers of these romantic flowers seeing green for Valentine’s Day.

``Fantastic″ is how grower Dave Kitayama describes this year’s crop of Valentine roses. Sunny skies helped produce vigorous plants with deeply-hued red, pink and peach blossoms.

``The quantity is above average, but it’s the quality of flowers that is also very, very good right now,″ said Kitayama, co-owner of Kitayama Brothers Inc. of Union City, Calif., the nation’s largest grower of roses.

``Last year I wasn’t really proud of the crop. ... This year it’s different.″

California, with its favorable climate, produces nearly 70 percent of the nation’s roses, with most nurseries concentrated in Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Mateo and San Diego counties.

The state last year produced nearly $62.6 million in hybrid tea roses, the favored elegant type that makes up virtually all cut roses consumers buy, according to the California Cut Flower Commission.

And Valentine’s Day remains the biggest day for roses, so growers keep an anxious eye on the weather during the critical seven or eight weeks before the flowers are picked for the holiday.

Winter storms last year hurt the crop. The rain itself didn’t bother the plants, which are grown in greenhouses, but the gray skies didn’t let enough sun reach them. The roses had rangy stems and less-than-vibrant blooms.

``Last year was horrible. Last year our production was probably off 30 percent,″ said Steve Oku of Oku Inc., a grower in Pescadero.

``But quality and quantity will be good this year. We’re smiling _ it’s nice to see the sun out,″ Oku said.

Americans bought 84.5 million roses in February 1995 and this year they are expected to buy 89 million, according to the Cut Flower Commission. About 1.2 billion roses are sold in the U.S. throughout the year.

``People see roses in more and more places throughout their day _ grocery stores and sidewalk vendors _ in addition to traditional retail,″ said Kathryn Miele, spokeswoman for the Cut Flower Commission.

Red roses _ the symbol of romantic love _ are consistently the biggest seller for Valentine’s Day. About 81 percent of roses given on Wednesday will be red.

But other colors have their fans, their popularity varying now and then.

``This year for us it is pink. In past years it’s been yellows and off-whites,″ said Kitayama, who particularly likes a peach-colored rose called Sonia.

This Valentine’s Day is a welcome bright spot for California growers, who face increasing competition from their foreign counterparts.

Competition from growers in Latin America _ along with urbanization, rising labor and utility costs _ have slashed number of California’s cut-flower growers from about 1,000 to fewer than 500, according to the commission.

In 1984, 78 percent of roses bought in the U.S. were grown domestically. By 1994, 61 percent of roses bought were imported, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Many California growers are holding on by diversifying, raising many different kinds of roses and other flowers as well. Oku, for example, grows 38 different varieties and colors, and Kitayama grows 25 different flower crops, including snapdragons, lilies and daisies.

But roses remain consumers’ _ and growers _ favorite flower.

``Of course,″ Kitayama said.

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