Larry Reit is the owner of Plant Marketing, a spring annuals grower based on Eau Claire, Wisc. Since the business opened in 1984, Reit hadn’t moved toward automatic transplanting throughout his 12 acres of greenhouse until 2009, after he met with AgriNomix at OFA Short Course (now Cultivate) the previous year.
Reit was ready to make an automation purchase for two main reasons. “One [is because of] labor savings, and the other for the accuracy of every plant being planted at the same depth in the same position right down the line,” he says.
But he’d only make the investment if AgriNomix could make its Urbinati RW 1500 Transplanter into a mobile unit, meaning it could be used in multiple greenhouses.
“If we weren’t portable, we’d have to have conveyors all over the greenhouse to move the product from the main greenhouse out into all the [other] greenhouses,” Reit says.
At first, AgriNomix was skeptical to accommodate the request. “As you know, almost everyone does transplanting in a central planting room, and moves the planted material by cart to the growing area,” says Rob Lando, president of AgriNomix.
But the company stepped up to the challenge to provide what Reit wanted in just six months. “We modified a standard machine by building a customized frame on casters that would allow Larry to do it.”
Reit was so pleased with the first automated transplanter that he purchased a 2nd mobile Urbanti RW 1500 Transplanter in February 2014. He says that between the two machines, the step toward automation has saved him more than 6,700 hours potentially worked by about 14 additional people throughout the spring season. Now, only three people are needed to operate the transplanters, and it only takes three people to move them throughout the greenhouses.
“We move the machine right out into the far corner where we’re going to fill the house, and we work our way back home,” Reit says. “It’s very efficient, very fast, very quick.”
Lando says Plant Marketing’s success is a testament to how automation can work for a business of its size. “Sometimes our machines are of the most value to small and medium growing operations, simply because they have to do so much with so few people,” he adds.
And if Reit ever has trouble with the machines, which he says isn’t often, AgriNomix’s service phone number leads to a technician on duty who always responds quickly — even if it’s from home, he adds.
“If we have a part that fails, we FedEx it to them overnight, and they’ll repair it the next day and send it back to us,” Reit says.