René Denis, Denis-Plants:

"We've been recycling the water since 1983"

"We do our best every day to deliver our products in quality, quantity and continuity, at a consistent price. Those are our four Qs, although not always written with a Q." Lochristi in Belgium is home to some state-of-the-art horticulture companies, who are leading when it comes to these four Qs. One of these companies is Denis-Plants.

Denis-Plants specializes in hardening off tissue culture plants, both indoor and outdoor plants. In Lochristi, the company has a laboratory and greenhouse facility. There, the starting material, propagated in the company's Vietnam facilities, is planted. Then the hardened-off young plants are shipped to clients around the world. Last year, the company expanded the total greenhouse acreage with two hectares, to a total of three hectares, and currently 1,000 m2 of lab are being added to the existing 4,000 m2. The company is expanding in both areas, between 10 and 20 percent a year, and last year the revenue percentage generated by the production of perennials surpassed that of the production of indoor plants for the first time.

Closed system since 1983
Sustainable production and reuse of water are hot issues. For Denis-Plants, however, this is nothing new. Actually, the 'responsible entrepreneur' already existed in the past, and although Denis-Plants is by no means the only one in this respect, the company's vision is a good example. "We've been recycling all our water since 1983. In 1990, we started working with an ultraviolet water purification plant. In Belgium, we were among the first adopters to switch from oil to gas. We've always been a supporter of MPS, and we were among the first Flemish companies to join MPS-VMS. We always try to work as environmentally friendly as possible, as much as our products allow us. With the greenhouses we purchased last year, we also had an extra large rainwater basin installed, with 0 liters of water going back into nature. We only work with rainwater. No canal water, no ground water, no drinking water: only rainwater."

In 2011, Denis-Plants was named AIPH International Grower of the Year

The growth of recent years is largely related to the expansion of the sales department. "We recently hired a second permanent salesperson. Selling at Denis-Plants isn't just pushing buttons at the auction, it's about selling the technique behind the plant. It has to be someone who knows about growing and planning, someone who discusses opportunities and difficulties together with the client. We hired this second salesperson to cover markets including Germany, because our client base is growing there as well. The English market is doing well too, so we also need reinforcements there. That's how we grow and that's how I want to grow - not by smothering the competition, but being better ourselves. That's the growth we want to continue, but under our own management, without outsourcing. Growing is good, if done gradually, riding the waves of the economy."

The Brexit could throw a spanner in the works, but René isn't too worried about that. "Everything that enters the market in England in terms of perennials and starting material, comes from the continent. My competitors are here as well, so our friends in England have to come to us. One worry is the pound sterling though. If it falls hard, it will hit the consumer and it will be a mess. But that's gazing into a crystal ball. Other than that, I wouldn't know what we can do. Of course we're staying up to date on logistics and phytosanitary requirements, so we won't face any surprises, but other than that, we have to wait and see."

High degree of automation

As a result of the recent expansions - with the 1,000 m2 of extra lab space come six additional R&D employees - there's undoubtedly a lot of consolidation to do, and there are various upcoming products lined up. René may have been in charge for over four decades now, he isn't ready to throw in the towel. "The challenge is always to become better. We're not shouting it from the rooftops, but we're quietly working on a green and sustainable future, without becoming fanatic. That way, my fellow growers and I can be one step ahead of criticism. There's only a few letters' difference between economy and ecology, and if you study that well, you'll always figure everything out."

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