The journey of Valentine's Day flowers to the U.S. begins in South America and goes through Miami
If you buy Valentine's Day flowers at a shop in South Florida, or anywhere in the nation for that matter, they almost certainly came from South America and got inspected at Miami International Airport.
The vast majority of imported flowers — roses, mixed bouquets, and chrysanthemums — come from Colombia and Ecuador.
MIA workers receive and process the shipments 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the peak Valentine's Day season.
Once the boxes are off the planes, they go into a warehouse area that's kept extremely cold as cargo handlers move them where they need to go. Then agriculture inspectors grab each bouquet, take off the wrap and tap the sides to check for insects or pests to fall out, and for any illegal drugs.
They have to move quickly to get through the massive volume of flowers.
"If there is something there, we collect them, send it to the lab, identify [it] and move to the next inspection," said Abel Serrano, an assistant director of agriculture at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. "If we get a pest that damage our corn or soybean, that creates an issue — increased prices and groceries."
CBP inspectors have intercepted1,235 insects and pests, according to the latest federal data.
These flowers make up vital business for Colombia, the world's second largest exporter of flowers after Holland.
"We make it or we break it for the whole year, if we don’t have the execution and the flowers on time to complete the orders," said Javier Mesa, representing Asocolflores, which is Colombia’s association of flower farmers.
The sheer quantity of flowers is staggering. Last year, in a single month alone, MIA received 42,659 tons of flowers, valued at $208.4 million.
This year’s Valentine’s Day flower season is likely to be as busy as ever. MIA gets 89 percent of flowers imported to the U.S. The shipments weigh 327,881 tons valued at over $1.5 billion annually.
Federal officials say this year's flower imports could exceed those of the previous three years.