Planting tomatoes in the Ohio heat

PlantTape conducts a successful tomato planting trial in Ohio

Tomato transplanter - PlantTape

PlantTape planted tomatoes in hot conditions with underground water injection.

On May 20, 2021, PlantTape conducted a tomato transplanting trial in Northwest Ohio. Planting in the heat, and with no irrigation, PlantTape successfully planted 3 acres of tomato seedlings, using sub-surface water injection to the plant roots.

Quality tomato transplants

Jason Kelly of S.A.L.’s Vegetable Transplants was PlantTape’s nursery partner for the trial. He grew a uniform, hardened-off tomato plant perfect for Ohio’s hot conditions and also for the PlantTape automated transplanting system, which favors a shorter, stockier tomato seedling.

S.A.L's Vegetable Transplants cultivated tomato seedlings ideal for the PlantTape automated transplanting system

S.A.L’s Vegetable Transplants cultivated tomato seedlings ideal for the PlantTape automated transplanting system

Planting tomatoes with underground water injection

For the transplanting trial, a hydraulic pump injected water below-ground from two tractor-mounted tanks. A hose attached to a nipple on the hollow planting shoe allowed for water to be delivered directly to each seedling’s roots.

Using 400 gallons to the acre, the water was injected directly to each plant’s root zone, creating a good seal and minimizing evaporation. The transplants were able to establish quickly and start growing.

Tomato seedlings just planted, Northwestern Ohio

Tomato seedlings just planted, Northwestern Ohio

In the five days immediately after the planting, temperatures remained high and the plants received no additional water. No wilting was observed, and all plants remained vibrant. On the sixth day, it rained.

The PlantTape system proven for no-irrigation tomato transplanting

Considering that much of the American Midwest does not utilize irrigation in tomato agriculture, PlantTape needed to demonstrate planting viability for no-irrigation tomato growing operations. Our May tomato trial did just that, showing that tomato seedlings remain hardy for several days post-planting due to our delivery of water to the seedling root zone.

Trays of tomato seedlings ready for transplanting

Trays of tomato seedlings ready for transplanting

Previous PlantTape tomato trials in California had already proven the viability of the PlantTape system for tomato agriculture with irrigation; now, its viability for planting tomatoes in the absence of irrigation has been demonstrated.

About PlantTape:  PlantTape is a precision farming company based in Salinas, CA. Founded in Spain and brought to the US by Tanimura & Antle in 2014, PlantTape released its automated transplanting system for commercial use in 2018 for growers of vegetables, tomatoes, and hemp. The PlantTape system involves automated sowing, nursery operations, and transplanting, and has been proven to increase efficiency while lowering costs for growers.

Transplanting seedlings on a flexible schedule: PlantTape gives growers logistical freedom

One of the many benefits of the PlantTape automated transplanting system is the logistical flexibility we provide to growers and greenhouse operators. Specifically, PlantTape seedlings can be planted at any time after the sowing process, in contrast to conventional systems.

Understanding the PlantTape system

With conventional transplanting, plants and roots must be sufficiently developed to withstand being manually pulled from celled nursery trays. A transplant that is pulled too early can be damaged or destroyed.

PlantTape automated transplanter with romaine lettuce seedlings in the field

PlantTape automated transplanter loaded with romaine lettuce seedlings

Because PlantTape places transplants into the ground with minimal human touch and without disturbing the roots, seedlings can be planted at any time after sowing. Whether the seedling is at the cotyledon stage or with 5 true leaves, the PlantTape planting modules cut the tape between plants and place each into the soil, while the tape material protects and encapsulates the delicate roots.

Advantages to growers of the PlantTape system

Produce markets and weather conditions are volatile and PlantTape’s versatility gives growers the ability to adapt planting schedules to navigate unpredictable events.

Potential planting scenarios and the PlantTape advantage

For example, a broccoli grower might have 20-day old seedlings in the greenhouse when she gets notice that two weeks of rain are moving in. With conventional methods, broccoli plants are too fragile to be pulled from their trays at 20 days, so the grower has no choice but to plant in the mud after the storm.

With the PlantTape system, in contrast, the grower can adjust her planting schedule to get the broccoli transplants into the ground before the rain arrives. The seedlings get the advantage of all the rain, and the workers won’t be potentially rained out, and don’t have to plant in the mud.

Transplanting 6 lines of romaine seedlings at different stages of growth

PlantTape transplanter ready for romaine demo

To use another example, a celery grower has 45-day old seedlings in the greenhouse when he learns that part of his crew is moving on in a week, leaving him short-staffed. (Read how PlantTape reduces transplanting labor requirements by 80% here).

Given the scarcity of skilled agricultural labor, the grower can’t hire more employees in time, and his celery is too young to plant immediately with conventional methods.

Again, PlantTape to the rescue. The grower decides to plant before the workers depart, and PlantTape handles the young celery seedlings just fine.

A demonstration with romaine seedlings of different ages

PlantTape planted romaine lettuce seedlings at 6 different growth stages

Six trays of romaine seedlings spaced one week apart

To demonstrate PlantTape’s ability to transplant seedlings at almost any maturation stage, we recently loaded our transplanter with six lines of romaine, each line being a different aged plant, and planted it near Salinas, CA.

 

Transplanting 6 lines of romaine seedlings at different stages of growth

Transplanting 6 lines of romaine seedlings at different stages of growth

On the far left, a line of romaine sown one week prior, with cotyledons barely sprouting. On the far right, a line of romaine at 6 weeks with 4-5 true leaves and three-inch plants. In between were lines of romaine at 2, 3, 4, and 5 weeks.

As seen in the YouTube video about the planting demo, the PlantTape planting modules had no issue precisely placing each seedling into the soil, regardless of developmental stage.

When we checked in on the 6 lines of romaine eight weeks after planting, all lines were lush and healthy.

About PlantTape:  PlantTape is an agricultural technology company based in Salinas, CA. Founded in Spain and brought to the US by Tanimura & Antle in 2014, PlantTape released its automated transplanting system for commercial use in 2018 for growers of vegetables, tomatoes, and hemp. The PlantTape system involves automated sowing, nursery operations, and transplanting, and has been proven to increase efficiency while lowering costs for growers.

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 business.

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

Source: https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/charts/90790/TotalProductionExpensesFeb2021.png?v=269

Source: 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.

PlantTape is an automated transplanting system

Precision plant spacing

PlantTape’s and 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!

For news and public relations inquiries, please contact marketing@planttape.com.