Automation keeps plant giant thriving

One of America’s most recognizable plant brands has embraced robotics via a still evolving relationship with TTA USA.

Bonnie Plants in Union Springs, Alabama, is a massive, modern farming operation, growing over 300 varieties of vegetables, flowers, and herbs across 70 sites throughout the country. Its plants, all grown in greenhouses, are ubiquitous in the gardening sections at Home Depot, Walmart, Lowe’s, and nearly 5,000 independent garden centers nationwide, according to the company.

Two years ago, according to VP of Operations Ken Andrews, the giant producer was looking at streamlining some SOPs in its production processes. After a quick glance around at the various sticking and transplanting robot options on the market, they linked up with hort tech outfit TTA USA (McMinnville, TN) to explore automating Bonnies’ transplanting lines.

“We installed our first TTA transplanter back in Fall of 2019, and we have since expanded on that initial investment to include installing 8 additional transplanters throughout our operations,” he says.

Specifically, Bonnie leverages TTA’s Pack Planter 1450 S and the Pack Planter 2230 S, along with the wireless connectivity capability offered by TTA, to more efficiently deploy labor throughout its growing operations.

So far, so good, according to the VP.

“We’re reducing our reliance on transplanting labor, and we are also seeing an improvement in survivability, as well as shorter grow times, which we believe is likely due to the technology helping us reduce the level of plant stress at transplant,” Andrews says.

Prior to signing on with TTA, Bonnie, like most, relied solely on human transplanters to get its plants out of plugs, into disposable pots and ready for retail. That labor pool is rapidly shrinking, according to Andrews, as well as becoming exponentially more expensive as many states have adopted $15 farm worker minimum wage legislation (New York, California, etc.) in recent years.

Going forward, the plant giant will continue working with TTA to streamline its production processes where it makes sense, so it can keep delivering the inexpensive-yet-quality plants consumers have come to expect when they see that familiar green and yellow branding.

“As we move into 2021, we are focusing on becoming more efficient and consistent in our overall operations throughout our production facilities,” Andrews says. “By partnering with TTA, we are able to streamline our production process and improve our overall efficiency - while at the same time increasing production.”

September 2020
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