The San Benito County Planning Commission approved the use permit for 96.528-acre mechanized vegetable transplant nursery at its Feb. 20 meeting. The project stems from Salinas-based Tanimura & Antle (T&A) and will be located at 1298 Orchard Road, east of the intersection of Fairview Road and State Route 156.
The facility will be built in six separate phases over six years and consist of greenhouses, along with a 68,000-square-foot building for offices, storage, and maintenance. Construction is anticipated to begin in spring 2020, according to Jeffrey Nohr, project manager for Monterey-based Avila Construction Company. The facility will employ 52 workers when completed.
County project manager Richard Felsing told planning commissioners at the Feb. 20 meeting that the site is considered one parcel, even though it’s on both sides of Orchard Road with Pacheco Creek to the north. He said the site has been used for greenhouses for cut flowers and farming going back to the 1930s, and that the property is consistent with the land use policies of the county’s general plan for agricultural zoning.
“This facility proposes to use what is called PlantTape technology,” Felsing said (see video below). “This is a vegetable transplant nursery. This [is a] mechanized method of germinating seeds and putting them on belt loops and then moving them with precession for transplanting into fields.”
He said six greenhouses, six outdoor growing areas and half of the main building would be built during the first phase. The second phase would essentially be a mirror image of the first phase, with the second half of the main building completed along with 12 more greenhouses and outdoor growing areas.
“This is a soft launch that allows the applicant to stabilize at each phase,” Felsing said, “rather than building it all at once and hoping it works. It’s a sound strategy from a project management point of view.”
Steve Bassi, T&A’s chief agriculture officer, gave an overview of the company and its current operations in San Benito County. He explained that T&A is an Employee Stock Ownership Plan company in which all employees share ownership with the founding family members, who have farmed in the Monterey area since the 1940s.
Bassi said the company is fully integrated as landowners, farmers, a seed company, transplanters, harvesters and as a packer-shipper. He said there are nearly 2,500 employees and 30 grower-partners farming about 39,000 combined acres in Monterey, San Benito and Ventura counties, as well as in the Imperial Valley, Yuma, Arizona, and Mexico.
“Currently, we operate about a 100,000-square-foot transplant nursery in Salinas, but we’ve outgrown that,” Bassi said. “In San Benito County we purchased the Denise and Felice facility, as well as the company, which is the home for processing onions and our PlantTape manufacturing operations on Fairview.”
He told the Planning Commission that the PlantTape operation is a subsidiary of Tanimura & Antle. The machines and technology were originally developed in Spain. T&A purchased the company in 2014.
The company currently has 12 machines in operation that were built in Oregon, Bassi told BenitoLink.
“PlantTape is an automated technology that helps increase efficiencies and productivity on the farms,” he said. “All the manufacturing of the tape happens in the Hollister area.
“By moving to a nursery,” he continued, “all of a sudden you have year-round employment that requires higher skills to operate machinery and instruments.”
PlantTape technology also reduces the need for agricultural workers in fields, Bassi said.
“When you transplant celery you need 16 people, now we’re down to three,” Bassi said. “We can do a lot more acres in a shorter amount of time. Also, transportation time is reduced, so there’s not as many trips to the fields. We’ve reduced our fertilizer by 20 percent to 30 percent, which is good for the environment. Water use has been cut and we don’t use as much pesticide.”
County Supervisor Mark Medina told BenitoLink that he has been coordinating with Nohr and the county planning department for the past year.
“I do commend the planning department on this project,” Medina said. “The planning department, Avila Construction and myself had many meetings as a team and I think that’s why this is successful. This is high-tech agriculture and what it can do is bring other people to our county, as we become the innovators of this process.”