David visiting a farm in China
Levity Crop Science uses chemistry to make products that improve the way farmers grow crops, through reducing waste or pollution. With the UK representing only a small market for these products, exporting has always been on the business’s agenda.
After being named Micro Exporter of the Year at the most recent Northern Powerhouse Export Awards, managing director David Marks reflects on the company’s export success.
Levity exports its products to wherever there is demand for them. Lono, its product which helps potatoes grow, is primarily exported to Holland, while its products for use on exotic fruits is sold to a wide variety of far flung locations.
David said: “Our market is where people are growing the most crops, and where the problems we can solve are. For instance, one of our products works on bananas, and there is almost no market whatsoever for this in the UK, so we have to export if we want to solve some of the problems involved in growing them.”
This particular product, called Indra, was first exported to Ghana, and has since expanded into the Philippines, with markets such as South Africa and China next on the list.
“The natural markets for our products are spread out and they take us to some weird and wonderful places,” David explained.
But even with international trade making up such a significant part of the company, there have still been challenges along the way for Levity Crop Science as it started and developed its export strategy.
“There can be lots of problems, even in markets we’re already in,” explained David. “We’re operating in a heavily regulated industry. Because the products we supply are being used on people’s food, they’re regulated similarly to pharmaceuticals or pesticides – there’s a level of registration needed to show that the products work, and the regulatory process is different in pretty much every country in the world. Even in America it differs from state to state.”
With different obstacles to exporting in every country, its important for the levity team to stay highly organised and aware of international regulations.
David said: “Whenever we go anywhere, the first thing we have to do is work out what the regulatory process is there and what we need to do with product registration, what experiments we need to do, what documentation we need to have. There’s a lot to do before you even start exporting with the products we supply.”
He went on to explain: “If you were to develop a new type of pen, within ten minutes you can show someone if it works or not, but if you develop something that gives you a 20% yield increase in potatoes - while that has value - you’ve got to grow potatoes for eight months to prove it. Even then you’ve probably got to do it two seasons in a row in different parts of the country in different soils, in different weather conditions, before people build up confidence that it works regularly.”
Despite the challenges that come with being a team of just seven members of staff operating internationally, Levity Crop Science was named Micro Exporter of the Year at the most recent Northern Powerhouse Export Awards, which recognise businesses across the north who are doing exceptional things within international trade.
Speaking about the win, David said: “Ever since we’ve started putting ourselves up for awards it’s raised our profile and it gives us something to talk about.
“We’re just starting out in China and we were recently sat in a meeting in Qingdao, and there’s limited access to the internet in China, so during the meeting the guy in charge of the company we were meeting just pulled out a printout from the internet and said, ‘oh you won this, what was this for?’ So that’s an example of when a business we’re looking to start working with has researched what we’ve done and thought it was valuable.
“It’s that extra bit of credibility that can help.”
After impressing potential clients in China, David now has plans to expand the business in the country and already has customers waiting for Levity’s products. He said: “Because of the long regulatory lead times, we’ve sometimes got a customer waiting before we’re legally allowed to sell.
“We currently have a list of customers in different countries who are eagerly awaiting products. Were getting started in South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, we have some registrations and field trials going on there which is very encouraging. The other places are Kenya, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. So we’re all over really!”
The annual PD Ports Northern Powerhouse Export Awards in association with HSBC, The Department of International Trade and Chamber International, is set to return for a third year to recognise the North’s top exporters and celebrate achievements in international trade.
The awards will take place on February 7 at the National Railway Museum in York
Nominations are now open. For more info and to submit your nomination visit www.northernexportawards.co.uk.
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