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September/October 2022 | Muedanyi Ramantswana

Ellepot & South African forestry nurseries look to the future

Forest Nurseries



South Africa’s forestry nurseries have a proud history of innovation and applying new technologies to the propagation of forestry plants. Examples of such innovation include the early adoption of a containerised tray system that replaced bare root propagation, as well as pioneering the development of eucalyptus clones and pine hybrids.

What is the next step change for forestry nurseries in South Africa?

Changing a nursery system is a significant investment; therefore, nurseries need to invest in systems that will be best suited and relevant to both nursery and plantation silviculture needs for the next 10-20 years. An Ellepot is a plug stabilised/wrapped by degradable paper that is not removed when planting. The Ellepot system facilitates key benefits such as an air pruned root system, a stabilised plug that can be handled early in the nursery cycle and is well suited to mechanised planting in the field.

What are some of the technological advances the Ellepot System makes possible?

Nursery automation

Production monitoring: Advances in technology allow for measurement and data analysis throughout the nursery production cycle. For example, Ellepot machines can provide updates on your phone with real-time production speed and summaries. The Ellepot Live phone app also assists nurseries to calculate their medium requirements, place orders and is a useful tool in planning preventive maintenance and troubleshooting.

Handling of plants: Significant increases in the cost of nursery space and the market demand for quality plants means that sorting and sizing operations in the nursery are becoming increasingly important. With the paper stabilising the substrate, Ellepots are compatible with various automatic transplanters available to the market. 

Plant Quality Analysis: A benefit of Ellepots over plastic inserts is that growers can evaluate the root architecture and mass at any growth stage without requiring a destructive sample. Advances in Deep Learning computing and imaging analysis has made high volume phenotyping possible in the nursery. One example is the number of root tips can be analysed for each plant in the nursery, a key determinant in how successful a plant captures the pit.

Root deformations can be analysed, and quadrant analysis ensures that plants with poor root architecture that are predisposed to windthrow are not dispatched from the nursery. Another method to determine plant quality is the measurement of chlorophyll fluorescence to detect plant stress and chlorophyll content. It is determined by the red and far-red light emitted by photosynthetic tissue when it is excited by a light source. Using this data, plants can quickly and accurately be sorted based on their photosynthetic capability.

Field Automation: As the cost of plant material and field establishment increases, the goal of a single pass planting operation becomes more important. The adoption of mechanised planting is being driven by the following factors:
• Increased cost and/or availability of manual labour
• Safety concerns and ergonomics
• Planting efficiency - Quality & Speed of planting
• Cost and availability of plant material being deployed
Ellepots are best suited to mechanised planting as the paper protects the roots during the planting process.

Climate change: Erratic rainfall and extreme temperatures can have a very negative impact on plant establishment. The air pruned root system and high ratio of secondary roots in Ellepots provide survival and biomass gains in field. Ellepots perform better under harsh conditions than plants grown in plastic containers, and this allows the planting window to be extended in harsh conditions or on marginal sites. 

Therefore, the Ellepot System provides the platform to take advantage of new nursery & field technologies, regardless of the plant characteristics required, positioning South African nurseries well for the future. 

For more information, contact Ellepot South Africa at 066 481 6746 /