One Opinionated Tree Farmer
If you had just two words to describe Eric Hall, “straight shooter” would be an excellent choice. Beginning his nursery career at age 16, Eric earned his Bachelor of Science in Forest Management at Stephen F. Austin State University. In 2009, Eric’s zeal for forestry led him to Lassiter Tree Farm in Arcadia, Louisiana, where he currently serves as farm manager. With deep understanding of fabric-pot technology, he often wonders: why aren’t more tree farms using them as a production tool?
From Rabble-Rouser to Inventor
Improving efficiency is Eric’s specialty. The predominant method of planting in-ground grow bags is extremely labor-intensive. Typically, planters use an auger to bore a hole in the ground. Then, the bag is placed into the hole and backfilled with hand shovels. Eric puts the process in dramatic perspective. “Four 30-inch holes equals about a cubic yard of soil. Could you shovel a yard of soil without taking a break?” Our response was brutally honest: “If we shoveled a yard of soil, we wouldn’t need a break. We’d need a coffin.”
Eric experimented with methods of reducing the labor cost of planting bags. That’s when an ingenious idea occurred to him. With the help of local fabricators, Eric built a safe, simple and cost-efficient prototype that would change Lassiter Tree Farm forever. In the process, he solved the primary obstacle that prevents farmers from adopting in-ground fabric pots — upfront installation costs.
The Monarch Auger is Born
To eliminate backfilling by hand, Eric’s Monarch Auger employs a simple concept. When the auger retracts from the planting surface, the soil is trapped inside a cylinder that encircles the augur blade. After the grow bag is placed in the hole, the cylinder releases the trapped soil back into the hole, eliminating the time and backbreaking effort required to backfill.
The Monarch weighs just a couple of hundred pounds, so it’s easily mountable on a skid steer. In three years, the Monarch Auger has installed 20,000+ bags ranging from 24 to 30 inches in size. Eric’s operation is so efficient; his four-man team can install 5,000 bags in just a few short weeks.
A Proud Achievement
Eric is proud to be an industry innovator helping to push tree nursery science forward. “Change is difficult for most people. That’s what separates the most successful businesses from the rest of the crowd. If you’re not constantly adapting, if you’re not improving safety, quality and efficiency, you’re going to get left behind.”
Behind his colorful and outgoing personality, you can see the delight Eric feels in pushing the envelope. “You’ve got to evolve. And I think we can truly say that Lassiter is a flagship tree farm in this industry. We’re a model of what can be achieved — not just with grow bags, but with fearless innovation.” With remarkable safety, efficiency and profitability, who knows? You might see the Monarch Augur coming to tree farms near you.