Photo courtesy of Stelz Nursery

Time is of the essence for any grower producing large quantities of plants in need of packing. That includes smaller nurseries desirous of a higher quality of transplanting, but that are butting against labor limitations or other obstacles.

Stelz Nursery discovered an automated solution to its pack planting needs, resulting in labor savings, precisely transplanted flats, and — so far, at least — minimal upkeep or repair. TTA USA’s PackPlanter transplants 1,500 to 2,000 flats or packs daily at the family-owned wholesale company, which specializes in annuals, perennials, herbs and vegetable plants.

“We don’t run it at full speed, but it does about 80 percent of our transplanting,” says Stelz general manager and secretary-treasurer Elizabeth Stelz.

The Covington, Louisiana, nursery uses the PackPlanter to transplant its product line grown in 288 plug trays. Before the machine’s arrival in 2015, Stelz was putting out 500 to 1,200 flats each day with support from a manual line of six to 10 people. The benefits of PackPlanter include increased production value and reduced labor needs, only requiring a few trained employees who tag flats as they come down the conveyer belt.

“It takes four fewer people [to transplant flats] than what we had normally,” Stelz says. “The PackPlanter also transplants without breaking the plant — anything from a small plug to one slightly overgrown. It’s a versatile piece of equipment that plants anything we tell it to.”

The company purchased its PackPlanter for $98,000, a fair price considering the machine costs less per month than two full-time employees doing the same job. Stelz chose the PackPlanter for its compactness — the entire assembly is about 50 or 60 feet long — and the fact that it was the only unit in the market priced for a small or medium-sized grower.

“Other machines were hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Stelz says. “We looked at YouTube videos of some other equipment, but they didn't have the same qualities of what TTA offered.”

Stelz says the PackPlanter saves the business $25,000 to $30,000 on yearly labor costs, while negating absences and poor performance inherent to humans. If a part needs replacement, TTA express ships a new part within a day.

“I don't have to hire four additional people, and I can get my product planted in the correct amount of time,” Stelz says. “Before I’d be bringing in 50,000 to 80,000 plugs to plant in a week. Those plugs might run into the following week, because regular labor isn't fast enough. The machine makes it possible to get transplants done in the week they're supposed be done.” — Douglas J. Guth