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How the Alaska peony industry got started

Stashed in: Business Facts, Plants!, Consumer Trends, Alaska, Botany, Alaska

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The only place in the US that commercially grows the giant peonies beloved by midsummer brides is... Alaska! Very cool that almost by happenstance these botanists and farmers started a valuable industry based on a true competitive advantage.

Wow, that's a ton of market demand:

Ron and Marji Illingworth, who live in the Alaskan town of North Pole, were growing vegetables when they first heard of Holloway’s research. They soon planted 25 peonies alongside their carrots and beans and are now one of the biggest growers in the state, selling 7,000 peonies last year as North Pole Peonies. As many as 58 peony farms have sprouted up in Alaska, capable of producing about 200,000 peonies a year. Marji Illingworth estimates that just in her region, growers will sell a million dollars worth of peonies by 2020.

That’s still a far cry from meeting the demand of the English caller who wanted 100,000 flowers a week, as well as the many other buyers who have since taken notice of Alaska’s peonies. From her living room in late spring, looking out at fields still covered in snow, Marji Illingworth rattles off a list of requests Alaska growers have received: 200,000 stems a week to the East Coast, 10,000 to Taiwan and a few hundred thousand to Dubai. “The market’s huge,” says Richard Currie, owner of Pennsylvania-based Styer’s Peonies and a 30-year veteran of the cut flower business. “I don’t think they need to worry about the market.”

With their off-season blooms, Alaska’s growers can fetch $4 a flower, while Dutch growers who sell “during the glut of the season” in April and May can only charge 28 cents.

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