Rothert Farm increases lettuce yield, cuts transplanting costs with PlantTape

Rothert Farm increases lettuce yield, cuts transplanting costs with PlantTape

Rothert Farm Inc. grows produce in Ohio and Florida. The Rothert family has been farming for more than 100 years, and, 4 years ago, Rothert Farm started using the PlantTape automated transplanting system for their 1100-acre iceberg lettuce growing operation in Florida.

“PlantTape does 100% of our lettuce,” says Jake Rothert, a 6th-generation Rothert grower. “We’re currently looking at working it into our other commodities.”

Rothert Farm Inc.

Jake Rothert and Tracy Dresser showing a lettuce seedling in its PlantTape soil plug within the biodegradable tape. Rothert Farm, Inc., Okeechobee, FloridaWhen Rothert Farm first heard about PlantTape, they were intrigued by our claims to cut transplanting labor costs by 80% while increasing planting precision and crop yield.

Agricultural labor challenges

Like many growers, Rothert Farm faces a labor problem: higher labor costs and increased labor scarcity. “Over the last 10 years,” Jake says, “our labor costs have more than doubled.”

Even with higher wages, Jake explains, finding workers to fill agricultural positions is becoming increasingly difficult.

(The farm labor shortage is widespread and is one of the reasons PlantTape’s automated transplanting system is so relevant to agricultural producers.)

Inconsistent lettuce stands

Jake also struggled with inconsistent lettuce stands. As lettuce growers everywhere know, seed planting is challenging. Especially in extreme weather conditions such as Jake faced in South Florida, “planting on the tail end of hurricane season.”

Jake was achieving, at best, 75% germination. And the 75% of seed that germinated did so in random, inconsistent patterns, leaving him with poor lettuce stands and the need for a thinning crew.

Adopting the PlantTape automated transplanting system

Rothert Farm implemented PlantTape’s system in 2017. When asked how easy or difficult the adoption phase was, Jake Rothert noted that “with any new technology there’s going to be a learning curve,” but added that “I did feel very well supported by the PlantTape team as we learned the system.”

Jake understood that PlantTape was not just our automated transplanter, but an entire system that included sowing, nursery operations, and transplanting, and that he’d need to make some adjustments to Rothert’s operations. Fortunately, those adjustments were relatively easy.

 

Lettuce transplanting operations with the PlantTape automatic transplanter, Rothert Farms Inc., Okeechobee, Florida

Lettuce transplanting operations with the PlantTape automatic transplanter, Rothert Farms Inc., Okeechobee, Florida

 

“Once we did understand the entire system,” he says, “we were able to make small changes to both our greenhouse and growing operations.”

Bryan Knepper, operations manager for Rothert Farm Inc, admits he “was brought up with conventional planting” and that “there was a learning process” to integrate the PlantTape system. After undergoing said learning process, “operating and working on the machine is very easy,” he says of the PlantTape 3-point automatic planter.

As a result of adopting the PlantTape automated transplanting system, Rothert Farm Inc. iceberg lettuce production gained dramatic efficiencies.

Iceberg lettuce production improvements with PlantTape

After implementing the PlantTape system in its Florida iceberg lettuce growing operation, Rothert Farm Inc. enjoyed increased crop yield, lower seed costs, reduced greenhouse space usage, and lower labor requirements.

 

 

 

Iceberg lettuce seedlings in PlantTape on plant nursery tray in greenhouse, Rothert Farm Inc, Okeechobee Florida

Iceberg lettuce seedlings in PlantTape on plant nursery tray in greenhouse, Rothert Farm Inc, Okeechobee Florida

 

80% reduction in transplanting labor

Consistent with what PlantTape sees across all growers, Rothert Farm was able to cut labor requirements by 80% for their lettuce transplanting operation. Jake confirms that PlantTape allowed him to reduce lettuce planting crew size “from roughly 15 to 16 people down to 3.”

The PlantTape automated transplanter requires 1 to 2 workers in the back to keep the planter modules running smoothly. With the tractor driver included, the total labor requirements for operating a PlantTape transplanter are 2-3 employees.

Better crop yield

The PlantTape automated transplanter features a hydraulic drive that allows for unprecedented precision in spacing plants. This delivers a high degree of uniformity in plant stands. Combine that with our precision sowing and nursery operations, and PlantTape gives growers a recipe for increased crop yield.

 

The success of PlantTape in Rothert’s iceberg lettuce program has led them to experiment with other crops, such as romaine, pictured here

The success of PlantTape in Rothert’s iceberg lettuce program has led them to experiment with other crops, such as romaine, pictured here

 

Whereas before Jake was getting lettuce germination rates of 70-75%, PlantTape brought the germination rate up to 93-95%. With greater stand uniformity plus higher germination rates, Rothert Farm Inc. saw a 15% increase in iceberg lettuce yield from implementing the PlantTape automated transplanting system.

Reduced seed and thinning costs

With PlantTape’s precision planting, Jake notes, he’s been able to “greatly reduce” seed costs and also costs associated with thinning the lettuce stands.

Pre-PlantTape, Jake’s planting crew was throwing large amounts of seed into the harsh environment of the South Florida post-hurricane season and hoping for the best. With PlantTape’s precision sowing and germination process, his lettuce seed costs went down significantly.

Better greenhouse efficiency with PlantTape

PlantTape enables more efficient plant nursery operations because of our denser plant spacing and shorter greenhouse growing cycle.

“We’re able to produce our transplants in a much smaller area in the greenhouse,” Jake confirms, “compared to conventional transplants.”

Jason Kelly, owner of S.A.L.’s Transplants, LLC, confirms the plant nursery benefits of the PlantTape system. S.A.L.’s handles nursery operations for Rothert Farms, and Jason says PlantTape enabled him “to double nursery production, due to increased plant density and shorter growing cycles.”

 

PlantTape doubled plant nursery productivity for S.A.L.’s Vegetable Transplants, LLC for iceberg lettuce production in their Okeechobee, Florida greenhouse

PlantTape doubled plant nursery productivity for S.A.L.’s Vegetable Transplants, LLC for iceberg lettuce production in their Okeechobee, Florida greenhouse

 

Remarkably, S.A.L.’s was able to “decrease fungicide use” as well as decrease the usage of “other spray applications.” Doubling production while lowering costly inputs: a recipe for healthier profits for plant nursery operators.

PlantTape customer support

PlantTape offers legendary support to our grower customers. This support ranges from technical to agronomical: our Director of Agronomy, Hunter Smith, is available to consult our customers, and our technical team is here for any equipment issues.

Jake Rothert confirms that PlantTape support “is always a phone call away—day, night, weekend—for any issue that I had.” He says that his experience with PlantTape has been overwhelmingly positive, thanks largely to the responsiveness and resourcefulness of our customer service team.

“Planting season can be really demanding,” he notes, “and they’ve always been there to help me through that.”

Jason Kelley notes that PlantTape has “a flat organization so that I can talk to anyone. Getting in contact with the right people has never been a problem.

And, lastly, Bryan Knepper expressed similar appreciation for PlantTape’s responsive customer support. “Any time we have a question, there is always an immediate response,” he says. “They always know what to do over the phone.”

Jake’s advice to other farms

“For somebody that’s interested in PlantTape,” Jake advises, “the best thing is get in contact with the team. Go out to another farm, talk to growers that are currently using it.”

Above all, if you’re a grower considering adopting the PlantTape automated transplanting system, watch a PlantTape automated transplanter in action. “Once you see the machine run,” Jake Rothert promises, “it’s going to sell itself.”

 

Mature PlantTape iceberg lettuce crop in the field, Rothert Farm Inc., Okeechobee, Florida

Mature PlantTape iceberg lettuce crop in the field, Rothert Farm Inc., Okeechobee, Florida

 

About PlantTape

PlantTape is an agtech company. Based in California’s Salinas Valley, we provide an automated transplanting system to growers of vegetables, tomatoes, and hemp. With the PlantTape system, growers can reduce labor requirements and increase crop yield.

If you are a grower interested in learning whether PlantTape is right for you, please contact PlantTape and we will answer your questions.

For media inquiries, public relations, or other marketing questions, please email marketing@planttape.com.

Producing more with less: PlantTape empowers precision agriculture

Producing more with less: PlantTape empowers precision agriculture

The world isn’t making more farmable land—but it is making more people! With a growing population to feed, farmers must coax more and more food from existing agricultural acreage. Fortunately, precision technologies such as PlantTape’s automated transplanting system can help. 

Experts estimate that global food production will need to double by 2050 to keep pace with population growth and rising standards of living across the globe.

Meanwhile, farmers face a global labor shortage, unpredictable weather, rising costs of farm inputs, and any number of other challenges that make their job more difficult.

The easy agricultural gains are in the past

It’s clear that growers need to grow more food per acre, and that’s already been happening over the past century or more.

The ironic truth is that the more efficient we get, the harder it becomes to keep making gains in efficiency. Going from 30% efficient to 60% is easier than going from 80% to 90% efficient. The closer we get to 100% efficiency, the harder each additional percentage (or fraction of a percent) becomes.

Previous technological disruptions moved the agricultural needle in ways that would be unimaginable today.

For example, going from horse-drawn farming to tractors, or rail-based transport to refrigerated trucks: these changes increased productivity dramatically.

Today, we’re still increasing productivity, but we’re doing so with massive technological innovation across multiple arenas: automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, big data, and more.

Bottom line: 50, 80, or 100 years ago, simple changes brought huge gains in efficiency. Today, complex changes eke out marginal gains in efficiency.

(Every now and again, however, a new technology emerges that defies the odds. Read on to see how PlantTape is delivering unprecedented gains in sowing and transplanting efficiency for growers of vegetables, tomatoes, and hemp.)

Precision agriculture holds the key

Today’s gains are often won through increased precision. Precision agriculture helps growers continue to push the limits of how much output a given unit of land can yield.

All agricultural equipment is designed to be precise—the farm equipment manufacturer that intentionally made imprecise equipment wouldn’t be in business very long—and improving on precision is a challenging task.

One area where precision agriculture finds low-hanging fruit is automation: removing imprecision or inefficiencies caused by human labor.

Agricultural automation, coupled with other precision farming practices, is opening new opportunities to solve some of agriculture’s biggest problems.

Automation brings precision while lowering costs

Not only can automation make agriculture more precise; it can also cut costs. This addresses one of the big challenges growers face: staying profitable.

Without profit, growers cannot continue to produce food for the rest of us.

We all need growers to keep growing. Ergo, it’s in everyone’s best interest for growers to stay in b

Unfortunately, for many commodities, profit margins have shrunk over the years.

U.S. farms debt to equity data show farms struggling to stay solventSource: https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/charts/90790/TotalProductionExpensesFeb2021.png?v=269

Agricultural production expenses on the rise 1970-2021 (line graph). Source: USDASource: https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-sector-income-finances/assets-debt-and-wealth/

Automation technologies that increase crop profitability are good for growers…and good for everyone.

But what about agricultural jobs?

Talk about automation, and you can’t avoid the question of jobs. If machines replace people, those people are out of a job, right? Not necessarily.

Firstly, agriculture has a worker problem. Agricultural work—especially the kind being automated—is hard labor, and folks are not exactly stampeding to do these jobs. Automation helps fill the vacuum of worker shortage.

Secondly, farms will always need people. The more high-tech a farm becomes, the more it will need workers skilled in the various technologies that the farm relies on. Automation allows growers to shift employees from hard physical labor and train them in other areas.

The grower gets a more efficient operation; the employee gets a new skillset and job that’s less physically demanding.

PlantTape automates sowing and transplanting

PlantTape demonstrates how automation can make agriculture more efficient. Our automated transplanting system increases planting precision while reducing human labor. Crop yields go up, costs go down.

Tractor in field pulling the PlantTape 3-point automated transplanter

Precision plant spacing

PlantTape’s automated planter features a mechanical operation that offers unprecedented granularity with line-to-line and plant-to-plant spacing. Other planters rely on a chain and sprocket ground-driven mechanism, which offers interval spacing: for example, an option of 2-inch increments within a 6-10” window for plant-to-plant spacing. That’s fine if 8” happens to be the ideal spacing.

But what if data reveals that 7.4” is the ideal spacing? Whereas before, the grower would have no choice but to “round” to the nearest setting his transplanter allowed, PlantTape introduces newfound precision for hitting the target exactly.

More planting output with less labor

PlantTape’s innovative transplanting system doubles or triples transplanting output while slashing labor costs by 80%.

Where other transplanting machines require 10-15 people to keep the process running, PlantTape transplanters need only 2-3 people, including the tractor driver.

Where traditional transplanters can plant an acre per hour, PlantTape can plant 2-3 acres per hour.

Efficiency in the nursery

PlantTape’s efficiencies are seen before the transplanting field. Because PlantTape is an entire sowing, germination, and transplanting system, it allows nurseries to dramatically increase production as well.

Nursery plant density increases 300%

PlantTape allows for a million seedlings to be grown in 5,000 square feet of nursery space. On average, that’s a three-fold increase in plant density. Or, if you prefer, a 300% increase in nursery floor space efficiency.

More nursery crop rotations

But PlantTape’s benefits to nursery operations extend beyond plant density. PlantTape’s shorter growing cycles allow more crop rotations.

The PlantTape system does not require seedlings to reach a specific maturity, as traditional transplants must. Instead, seedlings can be transplanted at any point in the growing cycle. Usually, PlantTape transplants are planted 10-30 days after germination.

(An additional benefit of PlantTape’s “open window” for transplanting: growers can work around weather and other unforeseen events. Logistical flexibility is another important aspect of efficiency.)

PlantTape goes beyond marginal gains

In a time where 3% gains in efficiency are impressive, PlantTape is delivering 100%, 200%, 300% (and even more) efficiency gains.

If you’re a grower who is interested in learning whether the PlantTape system is right for you, please contact PlantTape and one of our specialists will reach out to you!

About PlantTape

PlantTape is an agricultural technology company bringing transplanting automation to growers of vegetables, tomatoes, and hemp.