For horticulture labour technology to be effective, growers need to find and introduce a system that gives them positive efficiencies without the major drawbacks, according to a New Zealand based crop management software company.
Adam Forbes, Founder of BumperCrop says that data and technology options can help labour efficiency through different collection methods, as the use of these systems can take subjectivity out of things like worker performance - so, the information collected can be more trusted by everybody.
"Precise data can provide clear goals that help motivate workers," he said. "Regular feedback on how performance is tracking towards targets and comparing with other staff can help motivate team members to improve and have greater satisfaction from their work. Incentives for good performance, such as pay, earlier finish times, praise and promotion can further enhance outcomes.
"Some growers who we work with have gone from not using any data at all, to using it effectively and they have seen a 10-15 per cent increase in overall performance. Technology enables this data to be precise because it can be fairer, unbiased and therefore useful to growers. With the removal of the unconscious bias, growers who have implemented a technology system have discovered employers are actually great performers who they originally thought may not have been. It also frees up supervisors and managers to coach and teach new skills as opposed to constantly monitoring performance."
Photo: Adam Forbes presenting at the recent Protected Cropping Australia Conference
BumperCrop started more than three years ago, with the aim of finding better technology solutions for protected cropping businesses, and improving growers' efficiency. Mr Forbes explains that there have traditionally been three main solutions options for companies, but each has its drawbacks.
"The right technology system should make the transition to becoming a data-driven organisation easy," Mr Forbes said. "It should seamlessly fit into existing processes and workflows, but it is not always the case because every organisation is a little bit different in how they work. Growers in Australia and New Zealand have diverse needs, due to a lot of different reasons, different processes, business sizes, as well as the types and variety of crops being grown.
"One option that some growers have explored is building their own custom system to help navigate this. The issue of this is that the rollout of this can be slow and the cost to build and maintain it would be high. There are also overseas options that can be faster to deploy, but they may not adapt to the grower's differing needs, which makes them harder to use because they were made with large scale and uniform operations in mind and are quite expensive with ongoing add-ons. There are also 'pen and paper' and Excel-based systems, which are cheap to deploy, but the ongoing time costs can be high and there can be inaccuracies with human reporting, which negate a few of the efficiency gains."
When implementing a new system, he recommends three main stages to ensure that the solution matches up with the organisation's needs; firstly evaluation and understanding of how the system can work, partial deployment and adaptation of the system based on the trial.
The New Zealand company launched its system that Mr Forbes says incorporates all of the elements that horticulture businesses need, after extensive consultation with growers.
"To ensure the system is fast, accurate and reliable, proven RFID and QR codes are a great way to achieve this to scan the data quickly," he said. "It is stored on the tag, so when it is set up, it cannot be recorded incorrectly. Low-cost mobile devices enable the system to be easily adaptable to the grower's individual needs, by sending updates to the software to stay current with the grower's needs.
"They also facilitate a gradual rollout approach, as opposed to deploying everything at once. So, the less time that can be spent by growers managing the system the more efficiency gains that growers can realise. We have also looked at introducing smart algorithms that can continually improve and automatically correct mistakes in the data, rather than that being done by people. Reports need to be precise and cater to what the different operations need, so every operation has a different way they want to see the data, and has to be visible at a glance. Our system is cloud-based so we can make the adjustments remotely, and keep the cost low."