Is Peony Farming Alaska's Newest Cash Crop?
By: Courtney Dowd-Stanley
Peony farming in Alaska? Not exactly what comes to mind. Oil, gold, and seafood maybe... but flowers? For outsiders and also many of those that are lucky enough to live in this grandiose paradise, farming in general seems to be a far-fetched idea in a state known for it's harsh arctic climate and vast temperature swings. But peony farming really is a treasure that Alaska has zoned in on and created quite the niche market.
Back in 2013 roughly seven years ago, we learned that there were approximately 25 peony farms spread throughout the mighty last frontier. Today, Alaska is said to have roughly 200 commercial peony farms lining acres upon acres of land throughout the center and south-central coastal regions. The borough mayor of Alaska's Mat-Su Valley even reportedly dubbed the area as the "Peony Capital of Alaska" back in 2014, HERE.
According to this article from University of Alaska Fairbanks, commercial production of peonies in Alaska started back in 2004 throughout the communities of Fairbanks, Homer, and Kenai. By 2012, there were over 100,000 roots that had been planted by approximately 38 growers. In 2013, they projected that 1 million stems would be harvested by 2015. Today peony farms are largely based in the interior, Mat-Su, and Kenai Peninsula areas. There are also farms located in Anchorage, Bethel, and even the state's capital of Juneau.
So why is peony farming so lucrative in the 49th state? Peonies can thrive down to temps around -60 and need cold weather and a nice blanket of snow to flourish, in the off-season. During bloom between July and September, Alaska is the only place in the world that you can buy these fabulous flowers. Which coincidentally, happens to be peak wedding season. To compare markets, the lower-48 sees their bloom between May and June while New Zealand blooms between November and December.
But peony farming is not for the faint of heart. It is not an easy practice, and in fact getting the right soil and fertilizer combination can be overwhelmingly tricky. Peonies require roughly 16 essential nutrients, each of which are irreplaceable. So even if one or two of those nutrients are missing, chances are high that the flowers will not bud correctly.
While the vibrant shades of pink, red, white, rose, yellow, and mahogany can be an overwhelming dose of eye-candy, peony farming is not an overnight industry. Once planted, the roots can take up to several years to produce a product that is desirable enough to be sold. Once they are ready to be sold, peonies sell from between $2 to $10 per stem, with $5 being the average.
So who is buying all these beautiful blooms? North America and the lower-48 seems to be the highest demand region with Asia and the U.K. also known to frequently request Alaska's newest cash crop. As the rise of Alaska peonies increases year after year, the state has seen a large increase in cooperatives throughout the varying regions of the state as growers come together to help best facilitate marketing and shipping demands.
Do you have more information to share about peony farming in Alaska? We'd love to hear your first-hand knowledge and experience as we are simply fascinated by Alaska's newest cash crop!
Looking for more where that came from? Check out these 15 incredible lakes that will demand your attention this summer. If you love wildlife, you'll enjoy the admirable Alaska animal sanctuary that's providing a safe haven for bears in Sitka, Alaska. Also, we're sure you'll agree with these 15 reasons why anyone who visits Alaska this summer won't want to leave.