CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Saliplant- Spanish Seedling Company

By: Sherie Caffey, Horticulture Agent, CSU Extension-Pueblo County

Saliplant delivery truck
After my blog about our Agricultural tour of Spain last winter, I got some feedback that folks wanted to hear about Saliplant, the company that provides the seedlings to Bioprocam and many other growers in the Andalusian region. You asked, so here it is…

Working on the production line
The Saliplant facility we visited was located in the town of Motril, which is in the province of Granada in Southern Spain. They specialize in growing seedling plants for growers, and also in hand grafted seedlings. They employ over 300 workers, most of whom are from the Motril area. They serve over 3,000 customers with their high quality seedling plants. They have growers who buy 500 plants (one tray) at a time, and others that might buy 80,000 plants at once, but the average is around 5,000 plants. Every year they grow about 145 million plants. 12% of those plants are exported to other countries in Europe, but most of them stay home in Spain. They were the first company to produce organic seedlings for commercial growers in 1945.
A stack of trays waiting for plants

The seed planting process is done on a production line system. They have three production lines running during business hours. Each line can crank out 450 trays of seedlings per hour, with each tray having 512 holes. So you don’t have to do the math, Saliplant is planting over 200,000 seeds every hour! Busy place. There's a short video of the production line in action near the end of this blog.

The seed planting machine
The clean, sterilized planting trays come down the line and first get filled with peat. After that the machines stick a label on them that indicates what is planted in them, and the time, date, and production line. They stressed trace ability to us many times. They keep all records for two years, so that if a contaminated product were to come out of their facility, they can trace it back to exactly where it came from and nip it in the bud.

The mini waterfall
Once the trays are labeled, the machines plant the seeds in the holes. If they are planting bean seeds, they have to be planted by hand due to their size and shape. They will grow anything that is requested by a grower, they have even started pistachio plants for someone. When we were there, the line we were watching was planting broccoli seeds. After the seeds are planted, vermiculite is added to the top, and the tray goes through a little waterfall to water the seeds.

This tray is all planted!
The germination rates of their seeds is really good, usually around 95%. They indicated that some seeds have inherently lower germination rates, and that is something that the purchasers have to accept. The growers buying the plants pay Saliplant per hole in the tray. Even if a plant doesn’t grow, they still pay for the hole, so they have to try to do a really good job at getting things to sprout. They also have a 42 acre greenhouse facility where the seedlings go once they germinate.

Seedlings getting big in the greenhouse
The grafting season starts in January, so there wasn’t a whole lot going on while we there. They did have two employees working on grafts, but during peak season they will have 50 grafters working at once. I found it very interesting that they only hire women to do the grafting. They said that the ladies tend to be more detail oriented and do a better job, girl power! They graft tomatoes, melons, eggplants, cucumbers and peppers. They graft the top of a desired variety to a root stock that will either give them better production, or better disease resistance. Most of the employees have a 95% success rate with their grafts. The grafts are money makers for Saliplant. For a normal melon plant, they might get around 2 cents profit, but for a melon grafted onto pumpkin rootstock, it is more around 2 Euros profit.

I hope you have enjoyed another look into the agricultural industries of Southern Spain, and that one day you might experience it firsthand.

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