Highlights: As currently designed, the prototype Risutec APC fitted with an automatic feeding system offers no significant advantage over the Bracke planting device in terms of planting productivity or quality; Cost estimates suggest that an idealized automated feeding system could increase productivity and decrease unit costs.
The productivity of mechanized planting could be increased by minimizing the time spent manually reloading seedling cassettes. This study compared the work-time distribution, productivity and quality of the prototype Risutec APC fitted with an automatic feeding system and the commonly-used and manually-loaded Bracke P11.a. An approach of comparative time study was employed that compared performance of two operators using both machines in four sites where slash and stumps had been removed. Operating costs were estimated and compared for these two machines and an idealized machine with automatic feeding system (referred as AUT). AUT was assumed to be similar to the Bracke planting machine with the only difference being in automatic feeding. Productivity of the Risutec APC (196 seedlings per productive work hour [pl PWh0–1]) was lower than that of Bracke (244 pl PWh0–1), making the unit cost 35.7% higher. A large portion (17.6%) of the productive work time of Risutec APC was interrupted by malfunctions, so it cannot be considered robust and reliable yet. Quality of the planting work was reasonable for both machines. The results suggest that an idealized AUT could increase planting capacity (hectares per year [ha yr–1]) by 15.4% and lower the unit cost (Euro per seedling [€ pl–1]) by 4.7% compared to today’s machines. The importance of an automated feeding system increases with planting efficiency because relatively more time is spent reloading seedlings. Proper automatic feeding system could offer a cost-effective solution and could enhance productivity, but the Risutec APC has yet to meet the technical and economic standards required to be competitive.