Scientific research is a key driver of the California floriculture industry, contributing to its current status as the leading U.S. producer and certain to shape its future.
But scientific study requires money, and the Kee Kitayama Research Foundation is an important source of funding for California-specific floriculture research. To bolster its vital mission, the foundation is urging members of the state’s floriculture industry to invest in their own future by contributing to the foundation’s research endowment.
“The research program is critically important to the future of the California floral industry,” said Michael A. Mellano, chair of the Kee Kitayama Research Foundation Board of Trustees. “The reason we’re here is because of the advances that companies and researchers historically have done.”
And where is the California floriculture industry? It’s at the top of its U.S. peer group.
According to federal and state reports, California’s $1.08 billion floriculture crop continued to lead the nation in 2015, the most recent year for which the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service Summary is available. California and Florida, the next largest producer, accounted for 49 percent of the total value of the top 14 producing states that year, the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center said.
Where the California industry is going, research will help determine.
“We know that the world is continuing to change. In order for us to compete and thrive into the future, it’s going to require us to invest in new technologies and new research in order to better our operations,” Mellano said. “As far as the Kee Kitayama Research Foundation, the goal and objective is to fund research that will specifically benefit the California industry — not just cut flowers, but the California floriculture industry, whether it’s cut flowers or potted plants.”
Contributions to the Kee Kitayama Research Foundation are just such an investment in the industry’s future.
And, with its endowment currently valued at about $545,000, KKRF already is more than halfway to its longtime goal of $1 million.
“We are a ways off but would hope we could get there in the next five or six years,” said Mellano, who acknowledged that timeline would be “pretty aggressive” but stressed the importance of meeting KKRF’s fundraising goal.
“It will allow us to fund more and better projects on behalf of the industry,” Mellano said. “Due to budget issues, it is increasingly becoming apparent that university-based research is requiring a stronger commitment from industry.”
The foundation formed as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 1993 to honor the late Kee Kitayama, one of the founders of the flower-growing business Kitayama Brothers and an important figure in the state’s floriculture industry.
“Kee Kitayama was one of the driving forces, if not the driving force, that established the California Cut Flower Commission,” said Mellano, a founding CCFC member as well as a current commissioner. “Kee Kitayama was always committed to the industry. He was always a forward-thinking individual, always engaged in research and education, and very passionate about that topic.”
Today, the foundation honors Kee Kitayama by continuing to advance the research and educational work that was vital to him and remains vital to California’s floriculture industry.
KKRF focuses on funding projects with the greatest potential to benefit California’s ornamental industry, targeting research into better, cheaper or sustainable pest and disease control, crop protection materials, and water quality, conservation and use efficiency.
“We’re not looking to fund international research,” Mellano said. “We’re looking to solve the challenges and issues that are facing growers and farmers in California.”
Currently, KKRF awards about $30,000 in research funds annually, with the money typically disbursed among two or three institutions. Its most recent grant recipients were the University of California Davis ($15,000) and the University of Minnesota ($13,750).
The foundation is funded completely through industry support.
To contribute, visit the KKRF website homepage and click the “Donate” tab.