Katrijn and Amelien

‘Growing is like elite sport’

Find out how cultivation manager Amelien and quality manager Katrijn keep all the balls in the air

Ensuring the highest returns for our clients every day. It’s been our mission for years, but this isn’t something that happens automatically. Behind the scenes, more than 350 employees work to achieve it. Two of them, Amelien Lybaert and Katrijn Derde, have recently progressed to a new position. High time for a chat with these two women!

Progressing into a job with a lot of responsibility

Katrijn and Amelien form a tandem. You can feel it right away. A wink here and a pat on the shoulder there. Even though, strictly speaking, they don’t work in the same department. Katrijn Derde (30) has been the quality manager for both the laboratory and the greenhouses for almost a year. Amelien Lybaert (28) is the site’s cultivation manager. In fact, they perform such a wide range of functions that it almost seems like they keep the whole of Microflor going by themselves. But first, let's go back to the beginning.

How did you end up working for Microflor?

Katrijn: “I’ve been working at Microflor for about two and a half years. First as a quality manager for the lab, but then the greenhouses were added about a year ago. Before Microflor, I worked as a quality consultant in the food industry. A completely different sector, in other words. In the food sector, you work on quality because it’s required by law or by a certification body. At Microflor, I felt an intrinsic motivation to push the quality higher and higher. That's why this vacancy appealed to me so much. We want to supply the best possible product, not just something that’s ‘good enough’. I’m a qualified bio-engineer (agronomist) and the field of botany has always fascinated me. The opportunity to do something with it professionally made me take the leap.

Amelien: “I started out as an assistant on the cultivation team five years ago. Around two years ago, this position evolved into the role of cultivation manager for the breeding department. Since September 2021, I have also been cultivation manager for the production side of things. As a life sciences graduate in horticulture, this place suits me perfectly. I always knew I'd end up working with plants. In the past, you would often find me in the vegetable garden with my father helping him to grow the best tomatoes. I have now shifted this passion to the Phalaenopsis, Helleborus and Gloxinia.”

Tell us more about your position

Katrijn: “I monitor the quality of all the crops. My job is based on two important pillars: on the one hand, proactively anticipating things that could go wrong and, on the other, reacting immediately if something does go wrong. Anticipation is the most important thing, of course, but we are working with a living product and so you can never have everything under control. Minor deviations often come up. To prevent these as much as possible, I have set up a number of projects to identify the biggest risks. For example, how can we standardise and safeguard our laboratory processes, from growing media to cutting and climate? After all, each plant must receive exactly the right amount of nutrients.

If something does go wrong, it becomes a matter of responding appropriately as quickly as possible. Feedback from clients is crucial in this regard. For this reason, I also work closely with my colleagues from sales. They know what is going on with the clients and comments or complaints go straight to them. In the past, these used to filter through to production on a rather ad hoc basis. I’m trying to structure this more effectively by means of a weekly meeting.”

Amelien: “I am responsible for the cultivation of our Phalaenopsis, Helleborus and Gloxinia varieties. The breeding process involves very different aspects to the finishing process. On both sites, I mainly focus on the climate in which they grow. I monitor the controls in the greenhouse, the water quality and the fertilisation. Together with Katrijn, I set up tests for these aspects and also work on safeguarding these processes. We work together quite a lot because I also check the quality of incoming materials and departing products. If I notice a deviation, I will immediately get Katrijn involved.”

Team training for top performance

“You actually keep the whole of Microflor going all by yourself,” says Katrijn with a wink. And when you hear the two women talking about their jobs, it does indeed seem as if they are running a department single-handedly. Which they strenuously deny. The quality they deliver today is the result of teamwork. Collaboration is the key. Are there any projects that they have implemented with their team which they are particularly proud of?

Katrijn: “The projects I work on only deliver long-term results. If you carry out tests to improve the quality, the plant naturally needs time to grow. So it takes a while before you see the effect and know whether the plan has succeeded. It’s a little too early to be patting myself on the back at the moment. (she laughs) But what I said earlier about dealing more structurally with feedback, this is an area in which we have made good progress. We now also provide clients with feedback more quickly so they know we take their complaint or comment seriously and are working on it. We also communicate proactively if we can identify a problem with a planned delivery.”

Amelien: “I also feel that five months is too short a period to congratulate myself. Together with my team, however, we have made great strides in terms of root quality and plant vitality. For example, we have optimised our watering regimes and fine-tuned our fertilisation. With good results, as we can deduce from the counts and scores when the plants leave for the clients. We also try to use as few chemical pesticides as possible. The client doesn’t really notice this aspect because the end product remains the same, but in the communication to the end consumer this does give the client an advantage because they increasingly expect that.”

“We’ve been achieving a very high MPS score for years,” adds Katrijn. “Sustainability is a decisive component and we achieve an A+.” Or in Amelien’s words: “In fact, we pull out all the stops every day to deliver elite athletes.”

No two days are the same

A nice metaphor. But in order to play sports at the highest level, you need to be in top condition yourself. So how do they do that? What brings them the most satisfaction?

Katrijn: “I can never predict perfectly what my working day will look like. That’s what makes the job so interesting for me. You’re working with living things. This means that even a small deviation in the process can have major consequences. All the parameters interact with each other: light, temperature, growing medium or substrate… Mapping these variations properly, and assessing how we should correct any deviations, is an important part of my job. Your plant may be ready a week earlier than anticipated, for example. But equally, something could go wrong at the end of the journey. You need to be in a constant state of high alert. That makes the job exciting. I admit, sometimes that does make it stressful too. But you know you're not alone. We’re constantly keeping each other going, if necessary with a piece of chocolate.” (she laughs)

Amelien: “What Katrijn says is quite right. From time to time, it can be pretty challenging to keep all the balls in the air. It never stops, either. As a cultivation team, we also work at the weekend. In the summer, we will be upgrading our cogeneration system so I’m expecting a pretty intense period then. Fortunately, everyone will be able to take a break in turn and other colleagues will step in to keep everything on track.”

Growing smiles over a game of padel

The conversation continues. Katrijn and Amelien are living proof of the new Microflor baseline: Growing smiles since 1986. They feel perfectly at home here and the atmosphere in the workplace is also an asset, they say. For example, they all play a game of padel every week or end up on a terrace somewhere enjoying a few drinks. “I can see myself staying here for quite a while,” they both say in unison. That's what you get with tandems!