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Soon after Thanksgiving, when parents go shopping and children start dreaming of sugarplums and candy canes, Shlomo Danieli turns his thoughts to Israel, and importing flowers from the country that made the desert bloom.

BLOOMING1212-GREENHOUSEThis greenhouse in the Lower Galilee area of Israel is growing Sara Yadviga peonies destined for export to the United States during the winter months. Mr. Danieli, owner and president of Blooming of Beloit, a specialty cut flower grower in Wisconsin, worked from 1969 to 1980 in an Israeli company that sold flowers worldwide-including Boston, Chicago and New York in the United States, where he handled sales, so he knows where to turn when wintry Midwest weather ends the growing season in Beloit.

In 1974, Mr. Danieli became the first to export flowers from Israel to the United States on a mass-market scale, back when only the company he worked for in Israel, a government firm named Agrexco/Carmel, was allowed to export flowers from Israel. In 1980, he left Agrexco and moved to the United States as an importer of specialty cut flowers from Ecuador, France, Holland, Italy, South Africa and Thailand.

In 1996, he sold his import company and returned to his first love as a flower grower by founding Blooming of Beloit. When the ban on Israeli exports was lifted in the mid-1990s, Mr. Danieli and Blooming of Beloit began marketing flowers directly from Israeli growers to buyers in all the major markets here. These imports have ratcheted up to become four times as large in the winter as they are during the rest of the year.

“The imports enable me to keep my customers supplied with specialty cut flowers 52 weeks a year,” he told The Produce News in a mid-November interview. As an example of how imports can build a market for a flower variety, he used the peony.

“We used to have peonies here in the United States only for three to four weeks in the early summer, and they sold for 75 cents a stem,” he recounted. “Today, with imports, we sell them from December to July, and they bring up to $2 a stem.” Sales here are better for Israeli growers, he stated, because here they get known-in-advance prices, rather than those determined at a flower auction.

Peonies are the best-selling specialty flower import from Israel, Mr. Danieli said, followed by lisianthus, larkspur, anemones and ranunculus. The Israeli growers he works with and visits at least once a year keep the quality high, have state-of-the-art technology and produce new varieties, he said.

Israeli growers also “invest in research and development strongly, almost as much as growers in Holland do,” he adds, noting that agricultural extension services in Israel support practical application of research with on-the-job training and consultation.

The downside to Israeli imports, Mr. Danieli said, is high labor costs there and the steep cost of shipping to the United States, which helps protect domestic growers. He estimated Israel ships only 7-10 percent of its crop to the United States, with 65 percent going to Western Europe and 25 percent to Eastern Europe.

“Europe is closer, and they have fewer restrictions,” he observed. “The saying in the industry is that Europe prefers the pest to the chemical, and here we prefer the chemical to the pest.”