Final micropropagation stage (Image: Andrew Cook, DPD Ltd.)
The boss of an export company in the heart of Somerset says she has no concerns over Brexit and has recently expanded its workspace to cope with demand.
Set amongst the waterlogged Somerset Levels the company is a leading producer in date palms from tissue culture to some of the driest regions in the world.
Date palms are a staple food crop for farmers, large and small, and can be used to combat desertification and in bio-fuel production.
Date Palm Developments Limited (DPD Ltd) has developed techniques to improve crops and sustain communities abroad over the last 30 years.
Investment by a company from India, Atul Ltd., has opened new markets for the company and allowed the business to grow.
The company’s managing director, Avril Brackpool, is optimistic about the company’s future, post-Brexit, with nearly all its raw materials and talent being locally sourced, and its export markets lying entirely outside the EU.
Local employment and educational links with the community
The company employs apprentices from both Strode and Yeovil Colleges and says it is working with them to it help retain skilled workers in the area.
It is proud of the fact that staff are retained and generations feel they can work somewhere that has a family feel to it.
Despite being part of a larger parent company the values and approach within the company is like any family run business.
One family has seven members working in different departments.
They live just across the road from the greenhouses in Baltonsborough.
William Melluish Senior explained that three other Melluish’s have worked here in the past.
Mr Melluish said: “Although we all work in the same place, breaks are at different times so we don’t always see everyone in the day.
“It’s a great place to work and it’s just across the road for Denise and I.”
The Melluish family all work at DPD Ltd. and live locally. (L-R: William (snr), William (jnr), Martin, Julie, Denise and Victoria Melluish. Patricia Melluish, not pictured, also works in the laboratory at DPD Ltd. (Image: Dave Lewis)
William Melluish (Junior) and Julie Melluish in Street.
Mother and daughter, Ewa Bobko, 58, and Anna Welch-Bebko, 36, are originally from Poland and both work for the company.
Mrs Bobko, with 12 years service, works in the dispatch area and Miss Welch-Bobko, with eight years service, works in the laboratory.
Ewa Bobko and her daughter Anna Welch-Bobko both work at DPD Ltd. (Image: Dave Lewis)
Miss Welch-Bobko said: “It is a very caring company, a small company that allows you to be flexible. They support you and in return you help them.”
Mrs Bobko said: “It’s so nice to work here. The employers care about the employees. We have social trips and events and long service is celebrated.”
What is micro-propagation?
Joanne Bayley, laboratory manager, explains that micro-propagation is just like taking a cutting in the normal gardening sense, but on a smaller scale.
Initial micropropagation stage of date palm (Image: Andrew Cook, DPD Ltd.)
Ms Bayley said: “We take off-shoots to propagate in the lab to create new plants. We use a nutrient rich medium, a sugar and gel mix, to grow the small cutting until it can be placed into soil and ready for export.
“We work in a very clean environment, to ensure the plants are free from disease. Once they are large enough we transfer the small plants to the greenhouse.
“Between six and twelve months are spent in the greenhouse to allow the growth needed ready to export to the numerous countries we export to.
Acclimatisation in the greenhouse (Image: Andrew Cook, DPD Ltd.)
“Date palms don’t really grow well in Europe, some are grown in Spain, but they do grow in poorer soils and salty ground even.
“There are about 20 people working in the lab and it’s a fantastic place to work, a lovely environment and everyone’s so friendly.”
After months of tender care the plants are ready to be dispatched to customers across the world, including Australia, UAE, South America and Africa.
What does post-Brexit look like for the company?
On October 3, the company opened a £2.5 million extension to the existing facilities.This will allow the company to double its production capability to meet demand.
Mr Sunil Lalbhai, Chairman and Joint Managing Director of Atul Ltd. spoke to staff and guests and officially blessed the site before cutting the ribbon to mark the opening.
Others blessed the site as well by breaking a coconut on the floor.
The company currently exports around 150,000 Date Palm plants to 25 countries outside of the EU every year.
This number is expected to reach close to 300,000 in 2022 as demand for date palms continues to extend beyond the traditional fruit growing areas of the Middle East and Arab Gulf, to North, Sub-Saharan and Southern Africa, Australia and South America.
Date palms are increasingly used to combat the effects of climate change and desertification, as well as for bioremediation (break down pollutants), green landscaping and bio-fuel production.
The parent company Atul Limited, India plans to make India a net exporter of dates, rather than an importer, and the UK greenhouses are an important part of its future plans.
Why is Somerset the location choice for growing date palms?
The area has always had a skilled workforce and businesses leading experimental work in horticulture.
A member of the Guinness family, with an interest in orchids, bought out the original company and propagated a number of plants, including orchids.
Staff and guests outside the new extension to the greenhouse. (Image: Dave Lewis)
Over the years as economic pressures placed on businesses took effect the diverse range of plants was streamlined until the current site and owners are left growing just date palms.