Cliff Beumel, President at Agromillora Nursery:

“We know the time for this kind of automation is coming"

Finding skilled labor has always been a big challenge for the horticulture sector. This has become an even more pressing problem during these COVID times, with the ‘Great Resignation’, also known as the roughly 33 million people in North America only that quit their jobs. This has of course impacted horticulture too, making things even more challenging for these large-scale operations, that are entirely based on top-notch efficiency. Yet, there are solutions for that.  

Addressing labor shortage
Automation is a critical area of focus for the future state of agriculture due to rising labor costs and declining labor availability. Fewer 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.

This is the area that Ferrari Costruzioni Meccaniche specializes in. “We are focused on developing new technologies in farming that accommodate fewer 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 Rossi, export manager at Ferrari Costruzioni Meccaniche. 

“The most innovative transplanter we offer is called FUTURA and it is a fully automated machine that is either tractor-pulled or self-propelled,” he continues. “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.

Agromillora California and automation 
Such solutions are particularly suitable for Agromillora California, a company that focuses on almonds, pistachios, walnuts, stone fruits, and olives. All these crops are often planted in harsh environments, so growers are constantly challenged with managing dwarfing, weaker growing plants until they can take root and become established. 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.” When it comes to the crops that Agromilla grows, they need every root tip they can get to ensure their plants are off to the best start possible. 

For this reason, they use Ellepots grown in Air Tray Technologies systems, which perform extremely well in combination with Ferrari’s machines. Cliff 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 fewer people in the orchard and make sure our products are designed in a way that will be amenable to this change.”

The air tray technologies is a patented system developed by Blackmore company of Belleville Michigan USA.

“The bottom line is that 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 a very 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. “After converting our production to Air Tray® Technologies, customer happiness and plant performance are up,” Cliff says, “and this has expanded into other facets of our business.”

For more information:
Ellepot
+45 76147676
www.ellepot.com 


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