Morning Star aims to create sustainable and resilient tomato seedlings with the use of high-speed automated grafting.

Land availability is one of the significant challenges that the processing tomato industry faces. Pressure from permanent crops, alternate row crops, and the spread of soil-borne disease in the ‘tired soils’ near the factories have forced processors to source increasing volumes from fields that are further away from their factories. This, coupled with regulations in crop protection, water usage, and rising labor costs, creates a challenging production environment for both experienced and new growers alike.

In collaboration with its growers and technology providers, Morning Star has led a research project to apply the benefits of grafting to processing tomato production. This ongoing 10-year project seeks to identify optimum rootstock-variety combinations, mechanical grafting equipment and methods, post-grafting healing, and efficient seedling production methods. Corresponding field trials have centered on optimum plant population, while nutritional and cultural practice studies are ongoing to train and harness the power of the vigorous rootstocks.

The development of the ISO Horti High Speed Grafting Machine “checks the box” for a fully automated grafting machine with superior plant quality results. With one operator, the machine does the work of 10 people with a much higher success rate. The machine learning vision system, precision cutting, clipping buffer, and built-in disinfection set the stage to fulfill the high throughput of grafted plants required to serve the industry.

Grafting standard hybrids on carefully selected rootstocks readily creates a resilient tomato seedling that thrives in the challenging soils found nearer to factories. Additionally, these resilient seedlings have the potential to increase yield by up to 30% compared to a hybrid control. Furthermore, grafting reduces the acreage required for cultivation, as well as the transportation costs at the time of harvest.

Much like the industry-wide yield increases with the adoption of transplanted seedlings and drip irrigation, we believe grafted seedlings will be the next significant bump in yield. Grafting is positioned to be an acceptable cultural practice to sustainably ease the pressure on land, with the added benefit of reducing operational costs for the grower and the processor.


Contributing Author: Nana Bekoe-Sakyi, California Masterplant

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