Nurseries explore exporting to Canada


Maryland companies interested in exploring exporting opportunities in Canada were invited to a seminar at Maryland Department of Agriculture on July 9.
Via Skype, Heidi Kim and Alison George of Argyle Communications introduced the Canadian market, where a population of more than 35 million is clustered near the U.S. border. The population is aging, with smaller families, and highly urbanized. The team outlined the top five reasons to export to Canada: same language, similar tastes, high disposable income, geographical proximity and duty-free tariff for most products under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Canadian consumers spent nearly $6.3 billion at the retail level on ornamental horticultural products and another $1.8 billion on landscaping services in 2007. Combined, potted flowers and plants and nursery stock sales accounted for more than $1.3 billion. Canadian tree and shrub imports in 2013 totaled more than $17 million — almost $16 million of that from the United States.
Kim, in-country consultant for the Southern U.S. Trade Association, noted that factors driving change in the industry include climate change — a need for ornamental plants that can thrive with less water and potentially greater temperature ranges — and global population growth — the need for plant solutions in urban areas to make increasingly dense urban environments more livable.
As in the United States, there are growing concerns for the environment. People are concerned about pesticide use; 1 in 10 is willing to pay a premium for green products.
There is increased demand for plants for environmental purposes such as green roofs, green walls, green corridors and rain gardens or for phytoremediation applications in which plants are used for depolluting air, soil and water.
Kim pointed out that most plant products from the United States do not require a permit to be imported into Canada, but do require a phytosanitary certificate.  Maryland's local export certification specialist is Dick Bean, chief of plant protection at MDA.
The SUSTA team reviewed a list of unrestricted, prohibited and restricted products.
Unrestricted products include bamboo (except Hawaii); bark mulch (except for certain species and imports from certain areas); coniferous cones and wreaths; cut or dried flowers; fresh and dried parts of herbs, spices, teas; houseplants (up to 49 plants); moss, sphagnum, and mushroom spawn; nuts for consumption or processing; root crops (in plastic bags, soil free); seeds; and sterile growing media.
A lively question and answer period followed. Bernie Kohl of Angelica Nurseries asked if there were wholesalers who would buy from him and then sell to landscapers. There are wholesalers and re-wholesalers, as well as brokers in Canada that a lot of retailers use. Canadian buyers have visited shows in the United States in the last two years to meet with potential exporters.
As in the United States, the trend is toward smaller gardens. The younger generation is not as "into" gardening until later in life.
Questions were raised about transporting live materials into Canada — are there problems at the border that would delay a shipment? Passports and phytosanitary certificates are needed for sure. Depending on the product, there may be additional requirements. If a shipment gets stuck, the vendor can call the Foreign Agricultural Service in Ottowa and get it unstuck — "or call us (SUSTA) and we'll call them. Generally they are willing and able to help," Kim said.
Since the currency exchange fluctuates, contracts should specify what currency is being used and should include a clause to negotiate the currency before the sale (which could be months later).
The "take home messages" were that some trees, such as Christmas trees, Canada has plenty of. There is demand for new, less commonly available products, and for specific products. SUSTA is happy to research export opportunities.
"Potted flowers and plants are the best opportunity now, also trees and shrubs." Another tidbit of advice: Newer gardeners are looking for instant gratification (think combination planters that don't require a lot of care or watering.)
Andrew Kreinik of Maryland's Small Business  Technology and Development Center, said the SBTDC is willing and able to help with business plans, logistics and more — and the services, all tailored to the individual client, are free. To make a counseling appointment, go to and click on the "Grow Smart" button.