“We are finding that the advantages and benefits continue to surpass our expectations,” Brian Antle, Harvest Manager at Tanimura & Antle (T&A), tells me. “For one, the system is six times faster than traditional transplanting, uses 97 percent less peat, requires 80 percent less labor, and is a true space saver in nurseries with 2,500 plants per square meter versus only 750 plants with traditional transplanting methods.”
For those unfamiliar with Plant Tape, the innovation offers an automated transplanting system that is more efficient than conventional transplanting methods using proprietary and unique tape-like plugs and soil blocks. Plant Tape offers a fully integrated system from sowing the tape, to germination, nursery care and transplanting into the field. The technology can also be tailored to a company’s specific needs should they just require specific parts of the whole.
Tanimura & Antle purchased Plant Tape in 2014. At that time, the Barcelona, Spain-based company was in the advanced R&D stages of development. Now slated for a full-scale rollout in 2017, T&A is looking to help benefit production worldwide.
“We were looking for an increased level of efficiency and productivity in our growing operations. That is the challenge that Plant Tape addresses and answers for us,” Brian notes.
Plant Tape is currently being used commercially throughout Tanimura & Antle production with lettuce, romaine, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, and onions. There are trials being conducted in the United States and throughout Europe for future development with a wide variety of crops. Trials with various crops will continue to be conducted through the rest of the 2015 season and into 2016.
"Each tray contains about 900 plants, which is more than double what normal trays hold.” - Brian Antle
In addition, Tanimura and Antle took home the Forbes Impact Award in Innovation for Plant Tape at the inaugural Forbes Reinventing America: The AgTech Summit 2015.
So, what is the Plant Tape process if we are getting down to the nitty gritty of it?
“Plant Tape uses a growing medium which consists of a mixture of peat and vermiculite. This growing medium is sandwiched between two layers of proprietary biodegradable tissue to form a tape like structure,”Brian says. “This is produced on the sowing line after seeding and is then cut into individual tapes. The lines of tape are then packed in a zigzag formation into plastic trays designed specifically for the transplanting system. Each tray contains about 900 plants, which is more than double what normal trays hold.”
Trays are then wetted to start the germination process and after germination, the seedlings develop normally in the plant pockets of the tape. The plants then move on to be transplanted and can be done so at any stage of development, either immediately after germination or when they are full-grown seedling plants.
Plant Tape provides a greater density of plants per tray than the standard plug system, which maximizes efficiencies at all levels of an operation - germination, greenhouse, and transportation.
Trays are then loaded onto the Plant Tape transplanting machine that, by way of the automated planting module, pulls the tape from the tray, cuts the tape around each individual plant and then accurately plants the plant directly into the soil.
So what then, are the cornerstones of Tanimura & Antle’s Plant Tape system? To sum it up:
Efficiency: Plant Tape provides a greater density of plants per tray than the standard plug system, which maximizes efficiencies at all levels of an operation - germination, greenhouse, and transportation. Transplanting reduces seed costs and the automated transplanter minimizes the need for labor in the field.
Quality: Plants are germinated in the nursery under ideal conditions and then transplanted in the field at optimal spacing without causing damage to the plants or the planting beds. The result is a uniform and high quality crop.
Flexibility: Sowing in Plant Tape is done under dry conditions, so seeds will not germinate until water is introduced. Moreover, seedling plants can be transplanted at almost any stage of maturity, from a few days after initial germination to a full developed seedling plant. This flexibility provides tremendous benefits to logistics and planting schedules.
Sustainability: Plant Tape utilizes less peat than conventional transplanting plugs and all materials are biodegradable. There are also water conservation advantages with less irrigation needed in the field.
“Acquiring Plant Tape when we did gave us the prime opportunity to begin adapting it for international commercialization,” Brian continues.
More and more, technology is finding its way into our day-to-day language in fresh produce, and for those looking to drive innovation forward, it is spurring much needed differentiation and growth. After all, the population is slated to jump from 7 to 9 billion people in the next 30 years, keeping the search for solutions at the forefront of our minds.