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Alaska peony industry shows growth spurt, prediction hits mark

The Alaskan peony industry is enjoying a growth spurt, according to a new report by two university researchers, Patricia S. Holloway and Kathleen Buchholz of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. They stated that commercial peony growing began there in 2004, with small test plots of 20 plants. By 2012, that number had grown to 120,000. With an average yield of 10 stems per plant, the harvest is projected to be 1.2 million fresh-cut peony stems by 2015.

By surveying 38 growers, Holloway determined sales of fresh cut peony stems doubled from 2011 to 2012. Most sales were made to other states; small quantities were shipped to Canada and Taiwan. The most frequently planted variety was Sarah Bernhardt, most consistently productive and vigorous plant of all colors. Duchess de Nemours was the most common double white variety of the 86 planted. Many were trial plants to learn which would grow best in Alaska.

The eight-page report, “The State of the Alaska Peony Industry 2012,” was released by the university in March.

“We have grower partners in Alaska, and we are expanding our production each year. We are very enthusiastic about the future for peonies from Alaska. It takes about five years for peony plants to reach full production, so growing peonies anywhere is a long term commitment,” Harrison (Red) Kennicott, president and chief executive officer of Kennicott Bros. Co., a Chicago floral wholesaler, said May 20.

“In my opinion,” he added, “it will be several years before there is sufficient production of peonies in Alaska to meet the requirements of most supermarkets..”

At a 2010 conference at the university, Kennicott, who has close ties to both peonies and Alaska, predicted the burgeoning growth of the peony industry in Alaska. Kennicott’s great-great-grandfather began growing peonies commercially near Chicago in 1836.

Harrison Kennicott and his son today grow peonies at 11 locations, including Alaska, under the name Midwest Blooms, and sell them through the Kennicott Bros. Co.

Alaska fits into Kennicott’s peony plans well, he explained, because Alaskan peony production comes when there is no other commercial peony production in the world. “The quality of Alaskan-grown peonies is superb,” he added. “The flowers are large and the colors are intense.” Production costs in Alaska are higher as are shipping costs because everything must travel by air, he noted, but Alaskan peonies command premium prices.