Dutch Grafting Robot Slashes Tree Failures to 0.2%

Dutch innovation is once again at the forefront of agricultural technology with the introduction of a groundbreaking grafting robot by Horti Grafting. This spin-off from the reputable Dutch tree nursery ‘t Kempke, managed by Jan and Wim van Meerten, is set to revolutionize the tree nursery industry with its fully automated grafting robot designed for tree nursery crops.

The robot employs the triangular grafting method, a technique that boasts more overlap between the graft and the rootstock compared to traditional methods like the English cleft or veneer grafting. While manual triangular grafting is known for being particularly challenging and labor-intensive, the robotic system simplifies the process, ensuring better fusion and significantly reducing the failure rate of grafts.

Initial tests have shown promising results, with the failure rate plummeting from 30% with manual grafting to an astonishing 0.2% when using the robot. This dramatic improvement not only saves labor but also minimizes loss, potentially transforming the economics of tree nurseries by increasing the success rate of grafts.

The grafting robot also introduces innovations in the application of grafting wax. Traditionally, warm grafting wax is used to coat the grafting site and the top of the graft to prevent drying out, a process that is both messy and difficult to automate. Horti Grafting has opted for a cold grafting wax, which remains liquid at room temperature and can be applied as a spray, making the process cleaner and more efficient.

The development of this pioneering technology has been supported by significant contributions from the European Regional Development Fund in East Netherlands (EFRO Oost). With over €900,000 in funding from the European Union, the province of Gelderland, and the Dutch government, the project’s total cost amounts to more than €1.8 million. This substantial investment underscores the importance of advancing agricultural technology to meet the challenges of modern farming.

Grafting plant and tree species is an intricate and laborious task that demands considerable knowledge and expertise. The decline in the number of skilled workers available for this job has made the development of such automated solutions even more critical. The higher survival rate of grafted plants achieved by the robot addresses a significant pain point in the industry, promising greater efficiency and productivity.

Interestingly, Horti Grafting has chosen not to sell the robot as a standalone machine. Instead, they offer a service where they visit nurseries with the robot and perform the grafting on-site, charging between 60 cents and 1 euro per graft. This model allows nurseries to benefit from the advanced technology without the need for a substantial upfront investment.

This season has seen the first large-scale grafting operations carried out with the robot, and Horti Grafting is prepared to expand its services. The implications of this technology are vast, potentially setting a new standard in tree grafting practices and offering a glimpse into the future of automated agricultural processes.

As more experiments and practical applications of the robot are conducted, the industry will be watching closely to see how this technology holds up in various conditions. The success of Horti Grafting’s robot could pave the way for further innovations, driving efficiency and sustainability in the agricultural sector.

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