[Nameplate] Mostly Cloudy ~ 93°F  
Feels like: 102°F
Friday, Aug. 26, 2016

Sikeston company is making an impact around the world

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Larry DeWitt displays a roll of Weed Barriar
SIKESTON - Larry DeWitt started business at ground level and stayed there.

DeWitt couldn't be happier about that.

Staying at the ground level has put him at the helm of a growing company that is making a difference in the environment.

It was a business that grew out of necessity, DeWitt explains. Originally owning a lawn and garden business, DeWitt began looking for a product that would control weeds yet allow plants to thrive.

"Using plastic for weed control was a safe and economical solution, but I was looking for a better solution," recalled DeWitt, a graduate of Southeast Missouri State University with degrees in horticulture and landscape design.

Experimenting with a variety of textiles, DeWitt discovered that woven polypropylene did it all. The fabric allowed plants to grow organically - the water and nutrients could flow through but the weeds were held in check. In 1974, DeWitt began production of the cloth. By 1978, the lawn and garden business went by the wayside as his production facility took up more and more of his time, becoming his full-time career.

Today, the DeWitt Company produces about 10,000 acres of permeable ground cloth annually. It is used across the United States and around the world from Costa Rica to Japan.

From his first product, the company has spun off several auxiliaries for horticulture and other agriculture needs. There are various configurations of DeWitt's trademark Weed Barrier along with other products including Row Cover, Thermal Blanket, N-Sulate and even site drainage products.

"Our work is to enhance the growth, survivability and production of plants by a safe method," he said. DeWitt explained safe means without the use of herbicides. "This is a natural barrier."

The businessman credits public awareness for his company's growth. More people are looking for safer, environmentally sound ways to produce plants, he said.

According to Dewitt, while a chemical may be successful in ridding a plot of weeds it also may damage the soil by killing microbes, earthworms and other living creatures which enhance soils. Also, he said, there is the build-up of chemicals in soils as chemicals are used over and over and there is the possibility of overuse and misuse of chemicals.

"God intended for there to be a balance - there is a reason for everything," DeWitt philosophized. "We may not understand (like the reason for a mosquito) but there is a reason for everything that makes this whole system work."

Quoting the company's motto - Down To Earth Protection - DeWitt explained: "I'm not trying to put all the fertilizer companies out of business. I just want to see things done in the right balance. After all, we are what we eat ... what we breathe and what we drink."

Working with an organic grower in Costa Rica who is producing pineapples, DeWitt is seeing how variations of the Weed Barrier can impact a crop. Pineapples are very susceptible to herbicides and, according to DeWitt, through the use of the Weed Barrier and without herbicides the grower is producing 11-pound pineapples and is talking about the possibility of getting three to four crops from the plants.

The company has designed products to deal with various insects, weeds and even problems presented by Mother Nature.

There is a biodegradable burlap used to combat soil erosion or as a tree wrap. Growers of field crops such as broccoli and cabbage are using the company's Row Cover to protect against the hot sun as well as from birds and insects.

One of the newer products is called Thermal Blanket. When placed over plants, the material allows water through but can protect flowers and produce from cold.

"We don't try to defy Mother Nature. We look at Mother Nature as a challenge. We can't stop the tsunami but we can reinforce the earth and provide erosion control. We can't make it rain but we can provide a barrier that conserves the moisture and keeps the weeds from getting the needed water enabling the trees to grow," he said.

The company's production plant, located off Kingshighway, houses about 100 employees. Workers are cross-trained to move from department to department as seasonal needs change.

DeWitt expands his philosophy to his work force, encouraging human nature to thrive. He said wants to provide a feeling of ownership in the company by the employees. The businessman encourages workers to express ideas and offer criticisms about operations.

Also the company has developed a profit-sharing plan. According to DeWitt, last year workers' gainshare was an estimated additional 53 percent above their salaries.

With lawn and garden ranked as the No. 1 hobby for homeowners today, the future for DeWitt Company looks good.

While DeWitt Company doesn't sell its products to individuals, the various barriers and other products are marketed throughout the lawn and garden industry to retailers who sell to individuals and many of the products carry the private labels of other companies. The lawn and garden business has had a steady growth rate of 20 to 30 percent and DeWitt intends to continue to meet their needs with current and new environmentally-sound products.

As for the fruits of his labor, DeWitt speculates he is now enjoying them. "I wanted to find a career, not just a job - I think of them as different. I wanted to do something I have a passion for and enjoy doing. I think I am."