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AALSMEER, The Netherlands: February 13, 2018. Valentine's Day, made official by Pope Gelasius in the fifth century to distract Roman Catholics from a more ancient pagan ritual involving animal skins and blood, remains as popular as ever in parts of Europe, North America and Mexico as consumers buy cut flowers grown in Kenya, Ecuador, Colombia and Ethiopia.

Some of the airlines involved in the annual red and pink rose rush this month included AFKLMP Cargo shipping 3,000 tonnes of flowers over a two-week period; Cargolux that added 1,200 tonnes of freighter capacity to deliver "millions of flowers" from Africa and Latin America; American Airlines Cargo with Valentine's Day one of its busiest holidays of the year; Lufthansa carrying 800 tonnes to Frankfurt; and UPS that shipped eight million pounds of flowers from grower to Valentine's Day consumer via Miami in early February.

CV FLOWERSRoyal FloraHolland, a conglomerate of Dutch growers responsible for the flower auction houses at Aalsmeer, says the week before February 14 is one of its busiest of the year as 300 million flowers are traded - with roses, tulips and chrysanthemums in shades of red being the most popular.

Last year the Netherlands exported a record €6 billion in flowers and plants to Germany, France, Italy, Russia, the UK and U.S. – where American Airlines Cargo shipped 10 million pounds of flowers and expects to do even better this year with a direct flight from Amsterdam to Dallas-Fort Worth.

According to America's National Retail Federation, U.S. consumers will spend an estimated US$19.6 billion, up from $18.2 billion in 2017, on Valentine's Day gifts this year with over US$2 billion on flowers.

Dutch Rabobank analyst Cindy van Rijswick says the Dutch share of cut flower exports is 43 percent with the "four rising flower stars" - Colombia, Kenya, Ecuador and Ethiopia - collectively now accounting for 44 percent of the global market. In 2005 their share was 25 percent and a decade later it had risen to 33 percent.

"Despite low production costs, a favorable climate, large farm size, and increasing efficiency and quality, it remains challenging to grow cut flowers in these countries," explained van Rijswick "There is hardly any domestic demand, producers have to deal with a lack of airfreight capacity and high transportation costs, volatile exchange rates, and challenging political and social circumstances."

In 2017 Royal FloraHolland, Schiphol Cargo and AFKLMP Cargo set up a 'Holland Flower Alliance' - a group of floricultural logistics experts with a goal to "prolong the lasting beauty of flowers" from growers to wholesalers.

Last year also saw AFKLMP Cargo ship more than 50,000 tonnes of flowers from Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ecuador and Colombia to Schiphol, Amsterdam for trading at Aalsmeer - nine minutes away by truck.

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