About 90% of cut flowers imported into the U.S. every year come through Miami. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture inspectors check those goods by hand, stem by stem, for stowaways that could threaten U.S. crops. So even though the U.S. government shut down for five weeks in January, one service continued at Miami International Airport: checking for bugs in roses.
“Chances are, if you buy a loved one flowers,” observes Christopher Maston, the agency’s port director at Miami’s airport, they came through [here].”
Rose growers start their production plans three or four months early, in order to have flowers blooming for February 14. The roses begin arriving in Miami soon after New Year’s Day, and the push continues through Valentine’s Day.
Workers examined over 6 billion cut flower stems in Miami alone during 2018—compared with just under 1 billion processed at all other ports from Boston to Honolulu.
In February, the delicate cargo flies in on 95-100 daily flights, mostly from Colombia and Ecuador, compared with a dozen or so daily flights the rest of the year.
Last year, agriculture inspectors in Miami examined 1.3 billion cut flower stems and kept over 2,100 pests from leaving the airport during the Valentine’s season.
Inspectors wear gloves and masks as they work at long tables in cold, brightly lit rooms. They unwrap each bouquet, pick through its stems and shake it upside down over a placemat-size piece of white paper. Everything that falls onto the paper is examined for aphids, mites, moths, and other insects.
Now another flower-focused holiday looms on inspectors’ calendars: Mother’s Day.
(U.S. Customs and Border Protection agricultural specialists inspect flowers at Miami International Airport in Miami. AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)