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FLORICULTURE

Flowers play an essential role in our everyday lives. Weddings, festivals, funerals as well as special days like Mother's Day and St Valentine's Day, are when there is a great demand for flowers and plants. Cut flowers are arranged into elaborate and expensive bouquets or casual bunches for impulse cash-and-carry purchases. Flowering and foliage plants are combined together in baskets or planters, or sold individually with pot covers.

Floriculture, or flower farming as it is popularly called, is the study of growing and marketing flowers and foliage plants. India has a natural advantage as it has a range of climatic conditions suitable for growing different kinds of flowers. The floriculture industry here comprises flower trade, production of nursery plants and potted plants, seed and bulb production, micro propagation and extraction of essential oils. Karnataka is the leader, accounting for 75 per cent of India's total flower production.

What do I have to do?

Floriculturists cultivate flowers, develop new varieties and sell their produce in the local and the international market. In recent years, genetic engineering has been used to improve flower crops. Two areas are being studied intensively - how to prolong the vase life of a flower and how to to modify the colour of a flower.

Cut flowers and cultivated greens are largely grown in-ground but the extent of such production depends on the regional climate, access to greenhouses and size and suitability of the open-field growing area. Many bedding, flowering and ornamental foliage plants do not tolerate freezing temperatures and often require warm and humid conditions for growth. These plants are also vulnerable to insects and disease. Thus, they are increasingly grown inside greenhouses or enclosed spaces where conditions can be controlled.

Cut flowers are harvested when the buds begin to show colour. Their stems are placed immediately in lukewarm water containing a floral preservative (a solution with sugar, other nutrients and a bacteriacide). The cut flowers and cut greens are then stored in coolers overnight before being graded, sorted and packed into refrigerated containers for distribution. Cut flowers and greens are highly perishable and their shelf life depends on careful handling.

What should I study?

You should enrol for an undergraduate (BSc) course in agriculture or horticulture and then opt for an MSc in horticulture or floriculture, which offers specialisations in floriculture, pomology (cultivation of fruits) and olericulture (cultivation of vegetables). This training equips you to set up and maintain a green house as well as cultivate, harvest, store and package cut flowers.

What next?

Floriculture is emerging as a "blooming business". The major importers of flowers are Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy and Japan while the exporters are Columbia, Israel, Spain and Kenya. Though the annual domestic demand for flowers is growing at a rate of over 25 per cent, India's share in the international market is negligible. According to the data collected by the National Horticultural Board, returns from floriculture were estimated at Rs 205 crore.

The sector offers a range of jobs. You can start off as a farm / estate manager, plantation expert and supervisor or a project co-ordinator. Research and teaching are the other avenues of employment. Marketing of floriculture products is another emerging field. You can work as consultant or become an entrepreneur. In addition, floriculture also provides employment opportunities for floral designers, landscape designers, architects and horticultural therapists.

A knowledge of floriculture and management will get you managerial or marketing positions with organisations involved in the processing and marketing of flowers. Those with a PhD in floriculture can get placed with the research and development cells of reputed companies and corporate houses.

The Government of India offers tax benefits to export-oriented floriculture companies. Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) grants subsidies for establishing cold storage, pre-cooling units, refrigerated vans and green houses as well as air freight subsidy to exports. It has been found that commercial floriculture has higher potential per unit area than most of the field crops and is therefore a lucrative business.

Where to study

• Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana.
• G.B. Pant College of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar, Uttarakhand.
• Faculty of Horticulture, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore.
• Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishva Vidyalaya, Jabalpur.
• University of Agricultural Sciences, Gandhi Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Bangalore.

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