Success With Vegetable Grafting
Grafted Growers began as most successful companies do, which is to say, as a collaboration between innovative, and like-minded individuals. Ricardo Hernandez met his partner, John Jackson, while studying at the University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC) through a program that paired a master’s student (Jackson) with a PhD student (Hernandez), requiring them to develop a business venture.
Through that program, the pair developed what is now Grafted Growers, a company based in Tucson, AZ, specializing in the indoor production of grafted tomato and vegetable plants for professional and hobby markets. One of the many things that sets Grafted Growers apart from other propagators is the fact that the company conducts 100% of its production indoors using artificial lighting.
When developing their business plan, Hernandez and Jackson strongly believed that this angle would help distinguish Grafted Growers from the competition — and it did. There is currently no other company in North America that does 100% indoor propagation of grafted plants using artificial lighting.
With the success they’ve seen in the American market, Hernandez says he currently hopes to expand the operation to include a facility in Mexico to cater to growers in that region. He is optimistic the technology will be adopted there.
Developing The Product
Hernandez is in charge of research and development and he oversees production. In basic terms, he says the product development process is as follows: “We do the growing, the grafting, and the healing, and then we sell the plant to the growers. From seed to delivery, it takes around 25-28 days, depending on the varieties.”
Hernandez explains that clients will contract with Grafted Growers for a certain number of plants — ranging anywhere between a few thousand to 20,000 — and then give them both the rootstock and the plant seed, which Grafted Growers then propagates for them.
In addition to that product line, Hernandez says the company has another line catering exclusively to the retail market, where they grow for the client using the client’s seed, and propagate plants according to orders.
One of the main benefits that Grafted Growers’ 100% indoor production provides to the client, is that because the plants never see the outside, they’re not exposed to any contamination from viruses, insects, and pathogens. In addition to being sterile, the rootstocks are suited to grow in practically any growing environment.
“We have a way to select the rootstock to be adapted to the region,” Hernandez explains.
“The great thing about [the plants] being grafted is that they come adapted to extreme outside conditions, so they do well anywhere. Depending on the disease and pathogen pressure you have in the soil, you can select a specific rootstock that’s going to do best in that region.”
A Tightly Managed System
When describing the facilities, Hernandez starts by mentioning that the operation uses no solar light, which allows them to give plants the exact amount of light needed, for the right amount of time, at optimal levels.
“This way we can grow the plants faster and we can grow them in very, very high densities because we can adjust the light. In our facility, the light is constant throughout the day and throughout the year. In a greenhouse you have a lot of variation in the mornings or the afternoons. You also have a lot of variation in January and in the summer,” Hernandez says.
Furthermore, the facility is equipped with carbon dioxide (CO2 ) supplementation, which is also tightly controlled. “We manage the CO2 concentration in the room and atmosphere to the right parts per million, so the plants have the optimal CO2. Then we also have a temperature control system, so the plants have optimal temperature,” he says.
The plants are grown vertically on shelves, and when they’re ready, Hernandez moves them to the grafting room where plants are manually grafted. After that, they’re moved into a healing room, where a different set of environmental conditions are present to help the plants heal.