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.”
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.
“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.
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, even at high speeds. 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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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