Pot plant nursery Mermans, Belgian ‘Ornamental Plant Grower of the Year’ 2012


On 21 August 2012 FLORALL, the Flemish trade fair for ornamental plant producers, again provided the ideal backdrop for announcing the ‘Ornamental Plant Grower of the Year’. In this fourth competition the award went to the pot plant nursery Mermans from Wommelgem, which specialises in hydroculture. Honorary runners-up for ‘Ornamental Plant Grower of the Year’ were awarded in random order to tree nursery Coppens from Wetteren and Kruiden Claus from Kruishoutem.

Mermans rewarded for its sustainable modernisation
Dirk Mermans demonstrated that, despite the many challenges, it is still possible to cultivate warm-room plants at the very highest level in Flanders. The jury praised the company for its steady implementation of the 5 core values judged to be crucial to operational management: vision and management, (II) market knowledge, (III) innovation and performance, (IV) sustainability and (V) a well thought-out personnel policy.
Géry Heungens, chairman of the AVBS (the Flemish professional organization for ornamental plant growers, garden contractors and landscapers) was delighted to be able to present the trophy to the successor of Denis-Plants bvba as the new ‘Ornamental Plant Grower of the Year’. He is convinced that Mermans will be a perfect ambassador for the Belgian and Flemish ornamental plant sector.

The company cultivates warm-room plants on substrate and in hydroculture. In 2010, in its fifth generation and on the initiative of Dirk Mermans, it underwent thorough modernisation. Every generation has adapted to the changing market and for Dirk the rising cost of energy and labour acted as an incentive to expand the company. In 2010 he replaced ageing glasshouses at various locations with a new structure measuring 14,000 m2 and equipped with the latest technology. Together with the existing glasshouses, the company now has 20,000 m2 at one location, where cogeneration has also been installed.

What is striking is the huge variation in the range of house plants on offer, both in variety and size. Dirk Mermans produces varieties such as Clusia, Monstera, Philodendron, Tetrastigma, Scindapsus, Aspidistra, Schefflera, Zamioculcas, Peperomia, Spathiphyllum and many more. 90% of the plants are intended for export and Mermans is the European market leader for various hydroplants. This niche market is however limited in scope and the economic crisis has also led to savings in the office market. Dirk Mermans’ greatest asset is the huge diversity and high quality. Hydroculture clients are very critical of plant quality. For this reason the overall operational management is attuned to this critical client group.
In addition to hydroplants, many plants are grown in compost, primarily large decorative plants such as Philodendron, Monstera, Clusia and Hoya.

Dirk Mermans attaches great importance to sustainable business. As a result, the expansion was accompanied by a whole raft of measures to enable more energy-efficient production: three different screens to control light and temperature, a humidifier and a cooling system for high-pressure mist, sidewalls in insulating plastic, a self-designed active heat buffer system with integrated buffer for high and low temperatures, complete recirculation of the feedwater, concrete ebb and flow floors and so on.

In addition to all the technical innovations which result in high energy efficiency, the vast array of internal optimisations is also in evidence. Moreover, the company is focusing attention on market-oriented innovations. For this reason, so-called lost varieties of house plant, alternative shapes and pot sizes or applications are included in the range.

The chairman of the jury (Heungens) therefore believes that Mermans can score well in the international ‘Grower of the Year’ competition which this year takes place in Venlo on 12 September. There, at the Floriade in the Netherlands during the AIPH congress, the international competition will take place with representatives from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Great Britain, Italy and the Netherlands.

Honorary awards
At the end it was announced that Boomkwekerij Coppens from Wetteren and Kruiden Claus from Kruishoutem were to receive the honorary runners-up awards in the ‘Ornamental Plant Grower of the Year’ competition. Both companies show that our Flemish ornamental plant sector is widely and strongly represented in the various parts of the industry.
The jury was full of praise for the vision of specialisation, well thought-out automation and economical operation management at Boomkwekerij Coppens.
As for Kruiden Claus, the jury was charmed by the unusual business character and the extensive capitalisation on trends and market evolutions. The jury was also very positive about the efforts made in terms of education, including welcoming young people and groups to the business.

The Ornamental Plant Grower of the Year initiative is organised by AVBS and its international counterpart AIPH, with the support of VLAM (the Flanders' Agricultural Marketing Board), Navex, KBC, Acerta, SBB and Innovatiesteunpunt.

First picture: copyright AVBS

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