Processing vegetable growers trialing new automated transplanting technology

Ontario’s processing vegetable growers are turning to technology in an effort to better meet their labour needs during planting, a short but very busy time of year.

Kent County’s Bercab Farms, working in collaboration with Jennen Bros Inc. and Sydenham Farms, has been approved for funding through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (the Partnership) to trial a vegetable transplanting machine in Ontario called “Agriplanter”.

Coming to North America for the first time, the European-made, tractor-pulled row transplanter helps automate the planting process; it is already being used by commercial vegetable farmers in Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

“A strong and growing agriculture sector relies on the adoption of cutting-edge technologies to make farming more efficient,” said Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. “Through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership we are investing in innovative, new technologies that will enhance production and ensure the sustainability and prosperity of Canadian farms.”

“Ontario’s government is helping our farmers find solutions to business challenges they face, so they can grow their businesses and compete in a global marketplace,” said Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “We’re excited to support this innovative and collaborative project through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, and look forward to the results of the Agriplanter trial.”

Currently, vegetable seedlings in Ontario are transplanted into fields in the spring and each plug plant is individually handled by farm employees, which requires a lot of workers on-farm to get all the crops planted in time.

“Labour is costly and it is getting hard to find workers, so we hope to address this through increasing automation,” explains Rob deNijs, Vice President of Bercab Farms.

The use of the Agriplanter is expected to reduce labour needs by seventy per cent when compared with the current planting method. Adoption of the new technology is also expected to increase the planted acres per hour by 20 per cent with additional costs savings in fuel and equipment hours per acre.

North American vegetable plant plugs are half the size of those in Europe. Sydenham Farms has taken the lead on the design and templating work to modify the size of standard seedling trays used by Ontario vegetable growers so they can be used on the new European machine.

Trials are underway at both Bercab Farms and nearby vegetable producer Jennen Bros using cauliflower, pepper, onion and tomato plants, with the goal of having the system fully operational by spring 2019.

In addition to streamlining the planting process and making it easier to manage, deNijs expects the new system to seed more accurately, improving plant-to-soil contact. This gives the plants a better start, resulting in better plant health and, ultimately, better yields.

“The funding we will receive for this project is highly important to our collaboration. We wouldn’t have entered into this project without it, as it would have been an expensive burden on the three farms, particularly if it wasn’t successful,” deNijs says, adding that a field day will be hosted once the system is working to showcase the technology to others in the processing vegetable sector.

Through the Partnership, this project will receive up to $119,540 in funding.

For more information:
Agricultural Adaptation Council
381 Elmira Road North, Unit 1
Guelph, ON N1K 1H3
P: 519-822-7554
F: 519-822-6248
adaptcouncil.org

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