Chen Liang-bin (陳良賓) never imagined that booming demand for his anthuriums — also called flamingo flowers — would cause him so many headaches.
Customers in China want to sharply increase orders to 3 million a year — 300 times the total number of orders last year, said Chen, chief of a floriculture production and marketing group in Neimen (內門) Township, Kaohsiung County.
“The demand from China is really too much,” said Chen, who has planted anthuriums in Neimen — the nation’s largest planting area for the flowers — for 11 years.
“We cannot simply cut our supply to Japan in order to meet the growing Chinese demand — at least not for now,” he said.
Anthuriums rank second on Taiwan’s cut flower export list, following orchids. Japanese like to use them for a traditional type of flower arrangement and have made Taiwan the top source of anthurium imports.
As of the end of last month, anthurium production in Neimen reached 2 million, surpassing full-year production for last year.
Although production is expected to rise to 2.5 million by the end of this year, it is still nowhere enough to meet growing demand from China, Chen said.
A Chinese flower trader offered Chen a down payment of 1 million yuan (US$149,900) to secure a deal for 3 million anthuriums a year — or 250,000 flowers per month.
Chen said that at present his group is only able to supply 50,000 flowers to China per month.
“My Chinese client told me that would not even meet the demand from Shanghai alone,” he said.
Chen said his group would not be able to meet China’s orders until 2012, after it expands the planting area.
Although anthuriums are popular in China, they were not included in the “early harvest” list of items that will enjoy preferential tariff treatment under the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) the government signed with China in late June, unlike oncidiums and other orchids.
In August, Chen met Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) in Tianjin, China. The flower farmer expressed his hope that anthuriums could be included on the early harvest list.
However, the ARATS chief said he should consider moving his operation from Taiwan to China.
“We don’t want to go to China. We want to keep our roots in Taiwan,” Chen Liang-bin said, adding that his biggest concern about working in China was unexpected policy changes.
He set up a flower store in Shanghai earlier this year to handle his business there, but said he would rather ship flowers to China than be based there.
“With direct cross-strait flights, Chinese orders can be taken in the morning and delivered by late afternoon,” he said.
Chen Liang-bin said the planting cost of anthuriums is between NT$7 and NT$8 per flower, and the average selling price in Taiwan about NT$20.
At present, he sells flowers in his Shanghai store for about NT$40 apiece, slightly higher than the wholesale price he sells them at in Japan.
Before Chen Liang-bin set up his shop earlier this year, traders sold his flowers in China for as much as NT$130 apiece.
Anthuriums grown in China’s Yunnan and Hainan provinces are not as good as those from Taiwan, which are superior in terms of the color and petal size, he said.
His group, which produces anthuriums in 32 different colors, has won major awards in local -floral competitions, including a “triple crown championship” at a 2008 event in Kaohsiung in which they won in categories for red, green and pink flowers.