Agricultural technologies developed by Blackmore Company are honed for practical applications with innovative engineering designs of machinery and equipment.
Additionally, we partner with like-minded companies whose technologies complement ours so that we can provide comprehensive solutions that integrate throughout the production process and create value for our customers.
We see future technological advancements in agriculture will be in response to the growing shortage in labor and the heightened awareness and accountabilities of environmental practices and impacts. Here, along with the insights of some of our strategic partners from Agromillora to Ferrari Construzioni Meccaniche, we will highlight some new automation technologies that will help solve for labor shortages along with the discussion of solutions like Air Tray® Technologies that will help improve plant quality, production efficiencies, and reduce waste.
Plant health and longevity is, or should be, at the cornerstone of decision making for growers. The Air Tray® innovation from Blackmore Company has revolutionized tree production by offering a solution that results in better root architecture for long term transplant success. Multiple options are available for growers looking for thermoform Air Trays® from Blackmore or injection molded Air Trays® from Blackmore’s exclusive partner, Proptek. Additionally, with Air Tray® Technologies, the Air Tray® combines with complimentary technologies like the Ellepot (Figure 1), and Air Tray® Rack system (Figure 2 & 3), promising that not only do nursery growers grow better plants that can be transplanted earlier, but they are also easier to handle, and integrate well with automation solutions.
Automation solutions that solve for labor shortages
Automation is a critical area of focus for the future state of agriculture due to rising labor costs and declining labor availability. Less people are interested in manual labor jobs so growers will continue to be challenged with figuring out a way to optimize key employees to make the most out of their time. Experienced employees are a limiting factor and rather than overcome lack of skilled labor with large quantities of extra labor, machines provide efficiencies that will bode well across multiple stages of the production process.
Ferrari Construzioni Meccaniche has been a leader in manufacturing farm equipment for over 50 years. Their success is a result of constantly striving for perfection with their machines through extensive research, innovation, and trials.
Christian Rossi, export manager at Ferrari Construzioni Meccaniche provided his insights on what labor-saving automation innovations Ferrari is working on. He shared, “the most innovative transplanter we offer is called FUTURA (Figure 4) and it is a fully automated machine that is either tractor pulled or self-propelled,” adding, “this machine needs just one operator, and it can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” The development of the aptly named FUTURA line of transplanters was driven by the increasing cost of labor combined with difficulties to find good field workers. This machine repays itself within 1 to 3 years, on average, depending on the acreage of the farm.
Further, Ferrari is investing a lot of resources into research and development based on their strategy to offer machines no one else has. “We are focused on developing new technologies in farming that accommodate less people, machines that can perform in very harsh terrains, (however we think the soil preparation will remain a key aspect growers will have to manage), and new, lighter materials that reduce the weight of our frames without losing their strength,” Christian describes.
Today Ferrari’s machines are already available in a self-propelled configuration and perform extremely well with Ellepots grown in Air Trays®. They offer a range of machines that are suited to work with different sizes of Ellepots and plants. Christian concludes, “a new generation of farmers that is more open to technology will lead the way and will be strengthened by the support of governmental policies that will motivate companies like us to invest even more funds in research and development.”
When considering automation, Cliff Beumel, President at Agromillora Nursery in California shares, “we think a lot about true automation and autonomous options in the field and we always think about our orchard growing systems that we support and everything that goes into being amenable to that. We don’t know when the time will come for complete conversion to these technologies, but COVID and the lack of labor will likely bring it about faster, so we are building towards a system that will be compatible.”
He describes that very simple shapes work well with robotics and the Ellepot is a much simpler shape for robotics to work with than more traditional container options. Additionally, because it is a stabilized media and the soil is contained and will not fall out when grabbed, this provides an added benefit. “We know the time for this kind of automation is coming and we know that the Ellepot will be easier to put into an autonomous system. This is an added benefit for us in adopting the Air Tray® Technologies system. The most important thing for us right now is to prepare for the inevitable time when there will be less people in the orchard and make sure our products are designed in a way that will be amenable to this change.”
Air Tray Technologies provide optimal plant performance
Cliff offered his first-hand perspective on the potential of Air Tray® Technologies at Agromillora California. “Air Tray® Technologies have been emerging over the last ten years and continue to evolve. The bottom line is the product works and it all has to do with growing Ellepots in the right tray, the Air Tray®,” Cliff adds, “the Air Tray® is the most cost effective and efficient way to ensure optimal performance growing in Ellepots. The combination of the Air Tray® and the Ellepot results in better root development through air root pruning.”
Since Cliff brought Air Tray® Technologies to Agromillora 2 years ago, customers have commented on how much better their plants have looked. Cliff recounts that early-on there was a misconception that plant quality and rooting would be poor, however soon customers saw how much better the plants looked, from top to bottom. He recalls particular attention was given to the numerous white roots emerging from the Ellepot in every direction. He reaffirms, “the Air Tray® is directly responsible for us being able to produce trees that exemplify the product characteristics that customers are looking for.”
Agromillora California focuses on almonds, pistachios, walnuts, stone fruits, and is synonymous with olives, all crops that are often planted into harsh environments, whether it be poor water quality, low water availability and/or nutrient deficient soil. These environments are not optimal for most plants, especially during the transplant phase, so growers are constantly challenged with managing dwarfing, weaker growing plants until they are able to take root and become established. To maximize success during this phase, a grower needs every root tip they can get to ensure their plants are off to the best start possible, and the trees produced in Air Trays® offer them that.
“After converting our production to Air Tray® Technologies, customer happiness and plant performance is up,” Cliff says, “and this has expanded into other facets of our business.” At the corporate level, Cliff has demonstrated that one of Agromillora’s flagship products, Rootpac 20 (a dwarfing rootstock for peaches, plums, and high-density almonds) grows extraordinarily well in the Air Tray® Technologies system. Agromillora grows millions of this rootstock globally and after 6 months of trials the same positive results were found . “The point is that you need a good tray. The Air Tray® helped to flip that perception very well.”
Air Trays® have been adopted at both Agromillora facilities on the western coast of the US (Oregon and California) and the Florida team is just getting started. They hope to see their European counterparts adopt and benefit from this technology next.