Decock Plants from the Belgian town of Komen had already been producing young plants for 30 years, when they started a breeding programme for a number of different plant varieties in the spring of 2018. The first results are osteospermum Gelato and lavandula Fantasia. Even if Ludo Decock is proud, he isn’t the kind of guy to pat himself on the back. “I didn’t grow up at a nursery, but I always had a feel for plants. It is thanks to the entire team, that I managed to build up a successful breeding and propagation company.”
Belgian family company Decock Plants has been producing rooted and unrooted cuttings since 1987. The company’s main focus is on dipladenia, lavender, pelargonium and herbs, but they also produce and propagate other annual summer bloomers. The rooted cuttings are produced in a 6-ha greenhouse in Komen, near the border with France. The unrooted cuttings have been produced at Desa Plants in Ethiopia since 2007.
Decock produces more than 150 varieties and they export to Japan, Korea, the United States (US), Canada and almost all European countries. Western Europe is their main distribution market, but the company is currently experiencing the fastest growth in the US.
Something to offer
Ludo Decock, founder of Decock Plants, didn’t have a background in plant propagation. He didn’t grow up at a nursery, but he followed his interest and embarked on a horticultural engineering degree. Upon completing it, he started teaching and he also worked at an agricultural phyto service. When he was working in those roles, he started to believe that if he surrounded himself with the right people, he’d be able to offer more in a young-plant company. By taking risks, albeit within certain limits.
He started with the propagation of geraniums, followed by spring bedding plants. They later expanded to the year-round production of all sorts of cuttings. By the year 2000, they had completely automated the internal logistics.
When Ethiopia started to present itself as a production country for cutting materials, Decock Plants was one of the first growers to set up a big company there. They swapped a partnership in Israel for their own company in Ethiopia. Firstly, because of financial reasons (cheap labour). But also, because the Ethiopian climate is ideal for the production of cuttings, with 365 sunny days per year and warm nights with average temperatures between 15 and 28 °C. They currently have 14 ha of polytunnels on their 40-ha site.
Transport from Ethiopia is also affordable and well organised. Unrooted cuttings for the North American market are shipped there directly. Rooted cuttings aren’t as prone to quality decay, so they can all be shipped via Belgium.
Own breeding activities
Breeding companies are getting bigger and their assortment is generally very good. However, more and more new introductions are protected by licences. “As a result, you can only take advantage of novelties through partnerships, or if you do it yourself”, reasoned Decock. So, that’s what he did.
Decock Plants started a breeding programme for osteospernum and lavender. Their longstanding partner PAC (Elsner pac Vertriebsgesellschaft) has no activities in these genetics. Osteospermum Gelato and lavendula Fantasia were launched in the spring of 2018. In the meantime, six of their own osteospernums have been bred and there are four to six more on the way. Their own lavender series will be expanded soon with another three varieties. Decock chose FlowerTrials to introduce their own herb (mint). The first five poinsettia precommercials will follow in the autumn.
First time at FlowerTrials
As Decock Plants is active in both the breeding and the propagation of pot and bedding plants, FlowerTrials seemed a logical place to present themselves. So, they applied for membership, which was granted. “Considering our broad and more and more international clientele, we could no longer ignore an event like this”, explains son Gaël.
And so, the company took part for the first time this year at F.N. van Kempen, a new FlowerTrials location. This company in Mijdrecht specialises in perennials and is one of Decock’s regular customers. Visitors could look around the trial gardens and Decock had picked three novelties to put on show: Lavandula stoechas Fantasia Early Purple, unique for its early bloom and intense, purple colour, osteospermum Gelato Cranberry, easy to grow and of a uniform colour, and Mentha spicata Decock, also uniform and healthy as well.
Knowledge within the company
Decock Plants has hardly any workers from Eastern Europe. Motivated workers from abroad are mostly from France and, to a lesser extent, from Germany. The breeder really values a good team of employees and he has also seen how that value increases over the years.
Son Gaël joined the company 1.5 years ago. His father considers it a welcome addition to the management team, but he never thought it was that important. “Not in the sense that the continuity of the family company is guaranteed now. I am 59 years old and not planning on slowing down any time soon. My own father managed a company up until the age of 76. Thanks to our diverse team of employees, there’s so much knowledge within the company; we hardly ever need to call upon expertise from outside.”
Gaël studied management in Kortrijk and completed a master’s degree in business studies in Brussels. During his studies, he didn’t think he’d join the family business. But when the opportunity arose, he decided to go for it. He spent the first six months working with the sales team in France. After that, he spent six months learning about all the different aspects of the company in Ethiopia. And he’s currently learning the ropes at their Belgian branch. Which exact function Gaël is going to take on, time will tell.