“Things must move forward.” Luc Van den Berghe might not say it in so many words, but you can still read it between the lines. And you can’t fail to miss his passion for the craft either. But Luc, whose company occupies almost 5 hectares, remains grounded. A few years ago, he switched from houseplants to garden plants. And thanks to smart innovation, this choice is now bearing fruit. “You have to innovate; otherwise, you just won’t make it in this trade.”
From the inside out
It’s not easy to summarise five decades of horticulture in a few paragraphs. In fact, Luc Van den Berghe put together no less than four pages to prepare for this article—a lot, for a man of few words. Together with him, we touch on the most important milestones. “The roots are on my mother’s side. In 1969, she and my father set up the horticultural business in Deinze. I was part of the company from childhood. After my father died, I took over the business with my wife.”
Initially, Luc only grew houseplants. 2002 was a key year for the company, when they took their first cautious steps towards outdoor cultivation. “It was a hit. We decided to create a slightly larger container field and to install some small polytunnels.”
You can always do better
The container field grew, as did the need for workers as a result of the company’s blossoming success. In 2009, Luc decided to invest in automation. “I always keep my eyes peeled for the latest developments. I was looking for a way to get the work done more efficiently with less manpower. The combination of a new potting machine, a robot, a buffer belt and a Prins forklift was a smart investment at the time.”
Luc did not rest on his laurels, introducing one improvement after another. For example, he had the container fields transformed into lava fields in order to optimise drainage.
Outdoor plants first and foremost
All the same, something did not feel quite right. “It was becoming increasingly difficult to grow houseplants,” explains Luc. “The range had to be constantly expanded, but the quantities sold per product became smaller. We were faced with the choice: either find different sales markets, such as the Netherlands, or adapt and improve our cultivation to meet the needs of our Belgian clients even more closely. We chose to stick with our existing clients.”
Two parties helped Luc to make this choice. Firstly, one client asked the company to grow Cordylines. Secondly, Floréac encouraged him to invest more in outdoor plants.
Floréac as a sounding board
“I got talking to a buyer during a trade fair and that was the beginning of a fruitful collaboration,” remembers Luc. “I’m an inquisitive person, and enjoy exchanging ideas and testing things with my peers. Floréac is not just a valuable sounding board. They also constantly keep a finger on the pulse and share this knowledge with the sector. Conversely, they also learn from our experiences. In short, we enhance each other. It’s also nice to note that they really put our findings to good use.”
Discussions with clients
These days Luc no longer grows houseplants in the greenhouse. Instead, he grows Cordylines all year round. “We have a broad range of outdoor plants, which is quite intensive. But it pays off—certainly when you get positive feedback from AVEVE, one of our biggest clients. We often have to increase our numbers because the clients keep coming back for more. That’s why I do it. And that’s why I prefer to be in direct contact with our clients—so we can decide together to try something new.”
For Luc, innovation also means making things more sustainable. “We’ve been affiliated with MPS for fifteen years now. In 2011, we had solar panels installed and will soon be switching to natural gas. Since this year, we have only been using recycled pots that can be recycled again. We try to water as little as possible. In addition, we’ve been recycling our irrigation water for a long time. We also have other plans in the pipeline. In 2021, we will install a rainwater basin to give us better quality feed water.
Luc was also one of the first growers to embrace the digital side of things, although it wasn’t exactly love at first sight. “I still like to adopt a client-oriented approach and also prefer to meet them. A strong relationship of trust achieves far more than yet another remote product photo.”
Change is needed
Luc has come a long way with his company. But how does he see the future? “Something has to change. All around me, I see more and more growers calling it a day. To prevent more of this in the future, prices need to rise. In fact, plant prices have barely grown at all over the years; everything has got more expensive, except plants! If you want to attract young people, things have to change. Our trade requires a lot of passion and dedication, so there must be something in return.”
However, Luc is not complaining: “It’s crazy work because it never gets done, but I’m still doing it with 100% enthusiasm.” And that passion for growing must be in his DNA, because the next generation is also on board.