2020 Alaska Peony Conference sheds sunlight on budding Alaskan industry
“It’s a commodity,” Marjorie Illingworth says about the peonies she grows, before adding, “It’s a perishable commodity.”
At the 2020 Alaska Peony Conference, flowers are not at the center of the table, but they at the center of conversation. Illingworth, who is co-chair of the Alaska Peony Grower’s Association Conference in Fairbanks, is one of the event’s organizers.
Illingworth’s comment about peonies being a commodity highlights the curiosity about flowers: their purpose.
“Well, up here in Alaska?” She asks, “Just think about it. Everything is white, and cold. And you bring in a bunch of flowers…it’s that type of thing. People love flowers.”
According to Illingworth, Fairbanks is one of the largest peony growing areas in the state. Alaska’s cool temperatures and long hours of sunlight are conducive to peonies that grow larger in diameter than those which come from the contiguous United States.
“We are the niche in that we are the area that was missing from the peony flower production for year-round production worldwide,” Illingworth explains. Alaska’s long winters inevitably give way to late summers, and this allows peony growers to produce in July and August, providing a crop much later than growers south of the Last Frontier.
Illingworth says that Alaska is a single-crop state when it comes to flowers. Other species are simply not worth the shipping cost when compared to other producers.
She says that this year, representatives from courier companies have attended the conference. To Illingworth, this is a sign that Alaska is starting to be taken more seriously when it comes to the peony market.
“It is a budding industry. I think we’re actually past the budding and into the growing,” Illingworth says.