While the lion’s share of the motion takes place on the commerce present flooring, the tutorial periods organized and provided at Cultivate’19 typically show of serious worth for many attendees. This 12 months, one attention-grabbing entry to the talking program was the Transplanting Cuttings by Hand and Robotics panel, which featured 4 decorative growers of various measurement which have adopted robotic transplanters. The panel was moderated by University of Florida’s (UF) Professor and Floriculture Extension Specialist Paul Fisher.
Fisher kicked issues off by presenting findings from a UF analysis project that polled younger plant growers (all with annual revenues beginning at $1 million) throughout the U.S. on their views and experiences with robotic transplanter machines.
The growers polled by UF almost unanimously agreed that decreased labor availability was the highest motive for adopting automated transplanters within the greenhouse. The examine additionally discovered the common producer surveyed ended up shelling out about 0.014 of a cent per chopping for guide sticking, whereas robotic transplanters, on common, price about 0.010 of a cent per chopping.
“Everyone knows that labor is the number one issue for our industry, and labor availability is a main driver for adopting automation,” Fisher mentioned. “We’ve found that your return on investment (ROI) when it comes to robotics is going to depend on the individual details of your growing operation.”
The Panel Lays Out Its Case
The panel featured Mike Goyette of Pleasant View Gardens, Bob Dickman of Dickman Farms, Jeff Back of Four Star Greenhouses, Gail Berner of Spring Meadow Nursery, and moderator Paul Fisher of the University of Florida. The members mentioned their experiences with automated sticking robots subsequent, with Greenhouse Production Manager Gail Berner discussing her firm’s use of the technology in its largely woody cuttings enterprise.
Berner mentioned Spring Meadow at the moment does about 60% of its cuttings manufacturing by way of guide sticking, however the nursery has witnessed a few 17% improve in manufacturing and a 63% improve in effectivity when utilizing the robotic stickers.
Operations Manager Mike Goyette was up subsequent. Goyette mentioned Pleasant View Gardens, which sticks about 35 million cuttings per 12 months, continues to be at round 90% guide sticking versus 10% performed by way of two ISO Cutting Planter 2500 transplanters.
The firm sometimes hires about 60 staff to stay cuttings by hand throughout peak season, although 2019 proved additional difficult in that regard, as wages amongst Pleasant View’s workforce have been up 20% from the earlier season.
“We found that having more than one robot working at the same time can increase that ROI timeframe,” Goyette mentioned.
The Labor-Saving Benefits of Transplanters Are Hard to Beat
General Manager Bob Dickman would probably agree with Goyette. Dickman Farms is dealing with mounting strain on its backside line by way of New York’s current farm employee labor reform invoice that will increase the minimal wage paid to farm staff within the Empire State by 29% over the subsequent 4 years, reaching $15 an hour by 2022.
“We’re always going to need labor (as an industry), and we’re always going to need people to transition from manual sticking to other aspects of the greenhouse,” he mentioned.
Enter Visser Group’s AutoStix bots, which Dickman Farms now makes use of for about 80% of its cuttings, changing 9 full-time staff per machine. Manual stickers up to now have caught about 700 cuttings per hour at Dickman, whereas the AutoStix can run by 9,500 per hour with three staff interfacing with the machine as operators.
“It’s basically set-it-and-forget-it [with AutoStix], because I know no matter what, it is going to be able to get through those 9,500 cuttings per hour,” Dickman mentioned. “And you can train an operator on it in two days, not to mention you get a 99% stick rate with very little patching.”
Jeff Back, Director of Greenhouse Operations at Four Star Greenhouse (Carleton, MI), says Four Star is at the moment working three ISO Group transplanters together with a single AutoStix machine acquired again in 2018.
He mentioned the primary profit Four Star has witnessed from automating most of its transplanting course of is within the size of time the machine can function and not using a break. Considering Four Star runs by, on common, 3.5 million cuttings in a peak week, it’s straightforward to grasp why scaling up with robots and automation appeals to an enormous operation like Four Star.
With three ISO Cutting Planter 2500s sticking round 2,400 cuttings per hour, and the excessive quantity AutoStix machine topping out at almost 9,600 cuttings per hour, robotic transplanting applied sciences are at Four Star to remain.
“Our workers and management are getting used to robotics being the way of life for us and the rest of the industry, and we’ll continue to invest in these technologies as long as the payoff is there,” he says.