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November/December 2021 | Muedanyi Ramantswana

Supply chain improvements through Ellepots

Forest Nurseries


The adoption of Ellepots in the South African forestry industry provides the ideal opportunity to re-evaluate how plants are grown and supplied to the field. According to Ellepot South Africa’s director, Shaun Biggs, “The Ellepot System provides the platform we need to change how we grow plants in our nurseries, and how we dispatch plants to the field”.
The current supply chain can be described as follows:
How the Ellepot system works
The Ellepot system uses air pruning and paper technology to stabilise the pots, without the need for a container. Air pruning is the process whereby roots grow through the Ellepot paper, are dried off at the tips, which in turn promotes secondary root formation. The result is up to 350% more secondary roots within the Ellepot when compared to closed plastic containers. As soon as the Ellepot is transplanted into the soil, the root tips continue to grow radially outwards, providi better root architecture and faster pit capture. The combination of a paper wrapped container and air pruned root system provides opportunities to make changes in each of the above supply chain steps.

Silviculture planning
Plants grown in the Ellepot System are 15-20% faster through the nursery. This enables foresters and nurseries to respond better to dynamic plant requirements, especially when setbacks such as fires, frost and animal damage occur.

Nursery propagation
The key aim of the nursery is to deploy the best genetics as efficiently as possible. In addition to meeting plant demand, plants must be of acceptable quality, meeting the Plant Quality Index (PQI) in place. The current PQI standards were researched and developed with plants grown in traditional 128 and 98 cavity trays. With the superior root development evident in Ellepots, there is scope to reduce or increase plant height requirements, according to the planting method used. The ideal age of plants, sturdiness and root scoring must also be determined for paper pots.

The latest technology gains in nursery plant propagation focus on plant handling systems and sorting in the nursery. Ellepots allow automated sorting, which will improve both the quality and uniformity of plants dispatched to the field. These sorting machines photographs each plant and measures shoot and root development. This would be a valuable record of plant quality at dispatch and could be incorporated into new PQI standards.

Delivery to Holding nurseries and Compartment
Plants experience significant transplant shock when removed from the container in which they have been grown in. For this reason, plants are typically kept in their trays until the time of planting. With the Ellepot System, the plants are grown in a degradable paper, and therefore are never extracted from the container they have been grown in. This means that the plants can be dispatched without the nursery trays, or alternatively transferred into a more suitable container. The challenges of holding plants in Holding nurseries is well documented. Research work has been done on a “Just-in-Time” (JIT) delivery system where plants are dispatched in rolls or boxes and skip the holding nursery altogether. This delivery system is particularly effective where the plantations are located near nurseries. Another option being considered is a container that is better suited to delivery and handle plants in the field. This container should be easy to transport and suited to both mechanised and manual planting operations.

Planting Operations
There is a host of new technology being developed to plant trees in field automatically. The adoption of this technology is quicker in developed countries where labour costs are high, and more gradual in developing countries. But the future cost savings, improved safety and ergonomics will drive the adoption of these technologies. According to Dr Tomas Ersson, mechanised planting machines can lead to increased damage to plants during planting. Ellepots protect the plant roots during planting operations and keep transplant shock to a minimum. Field studies in South Africa have shown survival gains of up to 8% and biomass gains on harsh sites of up to 30% for plants grown in Ellepots. This provides the opportunity to extend the planting season and is a useful tool in mitigating the impact of climate change.

In summary, the adoption of Ellepots in South Africa provides an opportunity to challenge the status quo of how plants are supplied and established in field. Further research is needed to determine the best PQI standards, logistics solutions and planting methods for the South African landscape.

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