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Getting Candid: Pricing for Local Tulips

I know that talking about money feels awkward and vulnerable sometimes, but I think it's really important to normalize the topic. I am very open about the fact that I go to counseling once a week, and we often talk about arming ourselves with data to build confidence and a sense of self-worth. In the spirit of transparency, I've decided to publish in detail the cost it takes to produce local tulips. Whether you are a grower or a consumer, I think it is valuable information and hope you might find it helpful.


The cost to produce cut tulips

For tulips, I calculate loss at 30%. When purchasing a crate of 500 bulbs, which is how I can secure the lowest possible price per bulb, I can expect that under the most ideal conditions I can bank on 350 usable stems. It's also important to note that tulips are grown as annuals in most cut flower operations, meaning that one bulb = one stem for just one season.


Direct materials: ~$225-$275

  • Including the cost of freight, at crate pricing, bulbs for singles (including standard early singles, Darwin hybrids, triumph types) average about $0.425, or $213 per crate of 500 bulbs

  • Including the cost of freight, at crate pricing, bulbs for specialty varieties (including doubles, viridiflora, parrots) average about $0.525, or $263 per crate of 500 bulbs

  • Some specialty varieties are significantly more than this!

  • Planting primarily in trenches of my native soil, the cost of a minimal amount of compost for tilth and nutrition is about $12.5. This will be higher for those doing "no dig" tulips in temporary raised beds.


Direct labor (unpacking, seeding, bed prep, transplanting, bed maintenance, harvesting): ~$30

  • It's very important to note that we now recommend calculating labor at $30/hour. I wouldn't even say this is a lavish rate when you account for income taxes and benefits. Certainly a big hot topic to tackle another time.

  • I save time on planting labor by dumping the bulbs into the trench, spreading them in a flat layer, and trusting in the natural process of negative geotropism...instead of the tedious egg crate method. Will that make slightly more perfect stems? Maybe a bit, but if you do that, the labor will be significantly more expensive! It probably takes me half an hour to plant one crate of tulips.

  • Harvesting may not take a long time when you can combine the minutes, but it is unforgiving work with tulips. You must harvest multiple times each day, and it's dirty work. Handling tulip bulbs can also cause reactions in some individuals.


Indirect materials (rubber bands, t-posts, landscape fabric): ~$5

  • Besides regular rubber banding, we also kraft sleeve these to avoid unwanted curvature.


Indirect labor (passive planning, marketing, clerical work): ~$15

  • Researching, shopping, and planning take valuable time. Maybe more than half an hour in all, but it's an easy number to work with.


So far, that's about $275 for 350 stems of singles, or $325 for 350 stems of specialty types. And that doesn't include overhead, which varies greatly from farm to farm, and can be on the higher end for tulips compared to other cut flowers.


Determining a wholesale price for a living income

Based on the calculations I shared above, we are clocking in at $0.79 as an average for single types and $0.93 for most specialty types. Again, this does not include utility usage and other overhead, and is priced for some of the shortcuts I take compared to other farms who grow more perfect tulips than me. At this rate, once we add the cost of overhead, the wholesale price for a locally grown tulip should range between about $1.5 for singles to over $2 for the most unique specialty types, depending on the pricing model you choose to follow. If they're on the shorter side of stem length but otherwise perfect, you should reduce the price. If they're forced out of season, they need to be priced higher to account for significant increases in utility usage.

 

Tulips are an outstanding cut flower. Long stems, generous vase life, unbelievable diversity of colors and forms. They are not quite as luxurious and massive as peonies and lilies, which come at a significantly higher price point, but they are a solid replacement at a fraction of the price.


Taking the time to do a market analysis for comps is important, too. Can you get basic, generic singles at a cheaper rate? Yes, you absolutely can. Specialty types? In some places, perhaps slightly cheaper (though for what it's worth I've also seen them higher recently for some varieties). But the hidden cost is always the same: the farming conditions in which they were grown, the treatment of the fine folks who grew them, and the excessive and unsustainable field-to-vase miles it took to get them to you. As local growers, we have two choices. We can blindly duplicate the pricing we see published online and complain that a crop always creates a loss, or we can become experts on the cost it takes to produce that crop, set a wholesale price with confidence, and educate our consumers. As for me, I'm going to do the latter.

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