Bradford Greenhouses, Bradford, Ontario

2017 Greenhouse Greats - 2017 Greenhouse Greats: Automation

January 5, 2017

Anthony Ferragine riding a Cushman vehicle to transport plants
Photo courtesy of Bradford Greenhouses


With more than 500,000 square feet of indoor growing space, and plans to expand in 2017, Bradford Greenhouses would not be as efficient if it wasn’t for the technologically advanced equipment they use. That’s why the team has implemented automated systems into the operation over the years to help with their bedding plants, containers and hanging baskets. This way, they can fully utilize their 300 employees in other ways during spring season to reach peak productivity.


Bradford Greenhouses’ wholesale division produces plugs and liners, potted plants, bedding plants and more — shipping about 1,400 racks of plants per day during May. They knew it was time to automate in the early ’80s, when they purchased their first seeder. Now, the company utilizes three transplanters to help get those plants into production. But automation for Bradford extends beyond transplanting. Plants are watered using irrigation booms, and hanging baskets are housed on a conveyor belt that carries them throughout the greenhouse, keeping manual lifting to a minimum. And when it’s time to ship, 16 doors in the loading dock help to get plants onto the trucks.


After purchasing a machine, you may want to throw it away, jokes General Manager Mickey Ferragine. When implementing change in the greenhouse, “You’re going to hate it before you love it,” he says. But he insists that it’s worth the leap. For example, the first transplanting machine Mickey purchased years ago could generate an output of 250 pots per hour at a maximum, but as technology has evolved, the new machine can plant up to 800 an hour. That adds up to significant time and labor savings. And while technology certainly helps, getting creative with automation can make improvements in unpredictable ways. Even transporting the racks of plants contains an automated element at the Bradford facility. They built racks that can adjust to any type and size of plant, and then those racks are attached to yellow motorized buggies, called Cushmans, that employees can ride to other parts of the site — another huge time saver.

One of Bradford’s three transplanter machines
Photo courtesy of Bradford Greenhouses


“In the next few years, we’re looking to add a lot more automation to our business,” says Shipping and Receiving Supervisor Anthony Ferragine. “We’re looking into more site-wide inventory traceability; we’re going to start looking into if our ID scanning technology is suitable for us or if we’re going to go to barcode technology. We’re looking to identify where all products are going to be at all times.” Anthony adds that the team would also like to eventually use robotics to space mums.