What’s in an appropriation? A bouquet for the flower industry

Senate spending bill language calls on White House to support US growers

Senate appropriators want the White House to display U.S.-grown cut flowers. (Roll Call)
Senate appropriators want the White House to display U.S.-grown cut flowers. (Roll Call)
Posted October 20, 2021 at 6:00am

Senators think it’s time for President Joe Biden to wake up and smell the flowers — as long as they’re American-grown. 

Tucked away in a draft fiscal 2022 spending bill is a red rose for the U.S. cut flower industry: report language that calls for “an American-grown policy for cut flowers and greens” in displays at the nation’s best-known address. The language doesn’t exactly show binding devotion; it’s more a gesture of senators’ affection for an industry battling imports and agricultural economics.

But for Camron King, the CEO and ambassador of Certified American Grown, the mention in the report shows his small industry has not been forgotten. One paragraph in the Senate Financial Services appropriations bill released Monday looks like the industry’s last hope of winning the White House’s heart, or at least its hearth, this year. 

“The White House is the exemplary place to show support for American citizens and the farms and the products that we are producing. If we are able to have the White House adopt a policy for displaying American-grown cut flowers and greens, we think that that sends a signal to the rest of the country that they should be supporting our homegrown farms as well,” King said in an interview.

The Biden White House has stressed the importance of government purchases of U.S. goods under federal Buy American rules, but the president will be able to avoid this thorn. First lady Jill Biden’s office has responsibility for flower displays; the office didn’t respond to questions.

The cut flower industry doesn’t know who authored the appropriations note. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was considered a possibility, but her office said it wasn’t her. The Congressional Cut Flower Caucus includes lawmakers from California, Oregon and Washington, where much of the U.S. flower and greenery industry is based, although growers are located throughout the nation.

Democratic Sens. Feinstein, Jeff Merkley and Patty Murray come from those states and are on the Appropriations panel. But the nation’s flower region stretches to Alaska, where peonies are a top horticultural crop, and Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is also an appropriator. 

Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young, both Alaska Republicans, are trying to outdo the appropriators. They have different versions of legislation that would prod not only the White House but also the Defense and State departments to use domestic products. Sullivan’s bill would require them to buy only U.S. flowers and greens for display, while Young’s bill says they must source their displays in public areas from domestic producers. The bills are still pending before the respective committees of jurisdiction.

People may not think of flower growers as farmers, but “there are people who have for many generations been working the land here and around the world to grow beautiful products that adorn our desks and dinner tables and special events and everyday occasions,” said King.

He said the provision could be another milestone for the estimated 4,500 to 7,000 U.S. flower growers after winning stronger enforcement by Customs and Border Protection of rules requiring imported cut flowers and greenery to carry labels indicating their country of origin. King, whose organization represents about half of the nation’s flower farmers, said about 22 percent of cut flowers and greens sold in the United States are grown in the country, an erosion over the years from 75 percent.

King, who is based in California, is looking forward to Friday, when he’ll attend an annual event at the Congressional Club in Washington where the domestic cut flower industry is providing U.S.-grown flowers for displays. He sees it as an opportunity to showcase U.S. flowers for D.C. policymakers.

Despite the Senate appropriators’ warm words, the industry may still find itself unwanted, at least this season. It was jilted a year ago when the House included similar language, only to drop it in the final spending law.