7/27/2013 7:00 AM
By Vernon Hoover Special to Lancaster Farming
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s like a tomato sewing machine.
On display July 15 at the Ohio Floricultural Association short course in Columbus was the first tomato grafting machine available to the U.S. market.
The semi-automatic machine requires a human operator, and with a few pointers, show-goers were successfully making professional grafts of purple heirloom tomatoes to an undisclosed rootstock.
One of the secrets of the precision is the automated hold and clamp mechanism, whereby the root and top scion are trimmed, perfectly aligned, brought into contact with micrometer precision and clamped with a soft grafting clip.
The wisdom of the operator is needed in judging scion thickness to appropriately match scion to rootstock and in culling out any undesirable plants before grafting.
Sanitation is accomplished by a small amount of disinfectant being applied to the blades automatically after each cut. The grafting clips are cut off a large reel, rather than being handled individually.
Brought from Spain to the US by TTA USA LLC, the unit can improve a worker’s grafting volume by a factor of five, according to the manufacturer.
“By hand, a grafter may produce, say, 100 grafts per hour, and if they are tricky with their hands, with this machine, perhaps 500 per hour,” said Steven Biles, manager of TTA USA LLC, of McMinnville, Tenn. He said the new machine will sell in the range of $28,000.