California’s central valley is the world’s largest growing region for processing tomatos. Spanning over 600km from South to North, it grew 300,000 acres of tomatoes in 2013 – roughly 30% of global production. Yearly 14m tons of tomatoes, worth roughly $850m are being processed into paste, salsa, cubes, and other industrial tomato products. It is a highly efficient sector, driven by productivity, all at very large scale. Special varieties are used, optimising yields and solubale sugar content (Brix). As the chart illustrates, farming yields have been steadily rising over the past 50 years at roughly 2% per year, reaching ~50 tones/acre on average, across the valley.

This yield, however, is close to the biological limit of today’s seeds and farming technologies. The common practice is to use hybrid seeds and  nursery-grown seedlings, and transplant them using automation.  Rootility has been running field studies in California, in collaboration with a US partner. Field trials reached over 600 acres. We have demonstrated rootstock-scion combinations which delivered in small scale over 100 tones/acre, and several other combinations which delivered over 80 tones/acre at large scale.

A key to roll-out and scaling success was the development of automated large scale grafting capabilities in California. We began addressing this challenge two years ago, and this year we began implementation, with a major de-risking project of running a pilot semi-automatic grafting factory in California. Currently, the majority of global grafting is performed manually, but we recognise that if we are to scale-up our seed business then we must pave the way toward automation. In June 2015, more than 4.5m plants that were grafted in our factory were growing in Californian fields. We will scale-up this operation in 2016, with an objective to graft over 100 million plants by 2019.