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cherry packinghouse traceability system

Cherries, a sign of summertime in the Pacific Northwest. Another cherry season begins, and for many growers, the whirlwind only lasts a few weeks. Like other crops, cherry harvest continues to move north as the season progresses. Up in Kelowna BC, a later July start can carry the cherry harvest into September, if growers are lucky.

In 2020, we have worked with a handful of cherry growers in British Columbia who benefited from the Traceability Funding Program. The program reimbursed growers and packers for equipment and software purchases that improve food safety and tracing at their farms. The funding helped several growers implement the FairPick weighing system to better track who picked what and where out in the field. The FairPick also requires less contact which is important in times of social distancing because it eliminates passing punch cards back and forth between pickers and checkers. I applaud the Canadian government. There has been no better time amid the COVID-19 health crisis to help support farmers to adopt better food safety practices and traceability systems.

However, traceability in the packinghouse is just as important. Maintaining a link from received bins to finished products shipped provides very important information when quality or health issues arise. Implementing an electronic produce tracking system in the processing facility at Valley Orchards is a new project that is taking shape and adding another layer of “agtech” to an already very automated processing line.

High-tech Farming

A recent visit to the packinghouse at Valley Orchards was a reminder that many growers have implemented impressive technology to help decrease labor costs and improve the quality of their produce. The building is a maze of conveyors, sorters, electronics, and optics that streamline the processing of their own cherries and cherries from other Okanagan Valley farms. Out of context, the operator’s station could be mistaken for a complicated security system. Instead of monitoring people in the facility, the cameras and computers monitor fruit as it moves through each stage, from clipping bunches, to hydrocooling, to sorting by “row” size, and detecting defects that kick the cherries off the line. This newer application of conveyors and sorting equipment was not completely novel, but the cameras, computers, and software replacing human eyes and hands makes this packing line beneficial to Valley Orchards. The challenges for the engineers who were tasked to design such a processing line included maintaining a balance between simplicity, features, and reliability.

The StockTrak system presents similar challenges. Implementing a new system, even if using barcodes, scanners, and label printers which have all been around for decades, takes careful planning, time, and several iterations. As the development of the software continues, we strive for a balance between the system’s simplicity with the granularity of data, flexibility to adapt to other processes while keeping the project scope in mind, and implementation of error-checking while maintaining an easy-to-use interface.

I am excited to see the StockTrak system implemented and how it will evolve to help other produce growers and packers improve crop traceability and be a powerful inventory management tool.


Piecework is something that sets the agricultural industry apart from others. There are clear advantages of paying by the piece in an industry where certain jobs are very time sensitive and labor is in short supply. If employees are more efficient and productive, they will be compensated more for their hard work and skill. Seems simple, right?

Well, there are always two sides to every coin. First, tracking pieces per employee, per job, and per rate can complicate the payroll process (and cause a big headache) if trying to do this by hand. The second issue can be finding a suitable payroll system that accommodates piecework pay. Acquiring the data to pay by piece can be tricky, but that is why we have developed hardware and software solutions to make it easier to pay by weight, by piece, or by container. Using RFID employee badges and intuitive software can ease the headache of all the paperwork and calculations. Now that total time, total pieces, and total piece wages per employee are calculated and ready to go with a few button clicks, the next step to further automate and save time is to directly import this data into payroll.

Another customer asked me last week if 2nd Sight had any recommendations for payroll software packages that integrate well with our labor tracking software. Over the last five years, we have worked with growers that use a variety of payroll software, and some have been easier to work with than others. Here are my thoughts about a handful of payroll software options that we see specialty crop growers using.

Everyone has heard of QuickBooks. I can attest to the simplicity of the software and the power of the reports. However, QuickBooks can be difficult to use for manufacturing or agricultural companies. One reason is the inability to import CSV or Excel-type files into the payroll module. The only file type accepted is unique to QuickBooks and does not allow for importing pieces. If you use QuickBooks, there will always be that final step of plugging in total hours and an hourly rate (calculated based on the piecework) which will take extra time and can be error prone. With Sage accounting software there is a similar issue. You can import a CSV, but you cannot import pieces and piece rates. On the support side, there are many resources available online for QuickBooks and Sage, but talking to someone who can make something happen will take time, patience, and persistence.

In terms of developing specific imports that generate the required data in the proper fields, we have had better luck with Advanced Grower Solutions’ GrowPoint, AgStar, Datatech, and Mobile Farmware. These software packages accept .csv or .txt file imports and provide the specifications and customer support needed to build and test imports of 2nd Sight data. Famous and Paylocity also offer resources to build an import to streamline the payroll process.

Implementing 2nd Sight electronic labor tracking is a step in the right direction to keep more accurate records and better manage piecework pay. The next step is creating that seamless link between data acquisition and payroll. Although some custom software and setup is involved, that first payroll that takes you just a few minutes instead of hours makes it all worth it: upload data, review, generate, download, import, and print checks. Payroll complete.


Many of our best feature ideas come from our customers. At the end of the year, we call up every grower to check in on how the system worked and ask about how the system could work better. When we hear the same feedback, we consider how to implement a new feature so that many growers can benefit. It is no surprise that every farm has its own way of doing things, so If a farm wants a very specific or unique addition to the software, our engineering team quotes the custom feature or report work. Many of our customers even benefit from the implementation of these commissioned features.

In this post, I want to highlight some of the innovative ways that growers are using our labor tracking systems to improve their operations and how they are adapting technology to meet their current needs.

Auto-Print Weigh Receipts
A Georgia grower uses the FairPick Lite for his blueberry harvest. Most of his pickers want individual weigh tickets. Pickers always have an option to manually print a receipt after they weigh. However, as soon as the next person puts a bucket or lug on the scale, the picker cannot print the last weigh transaction. Pickers would get frustrated when they forgot to print their weigh ticket. Now there is an option in settings that enables auto-printing. Eliminating one button push continues to prevent a lot of frustration. Every grower knows that maintaining a happy workforce is key to getting all the fruit out of the fields.

ABC Select
This feature was originally requested by a commercial nursery using the InstaCaliper to measure field inventory. It is a tool that allows the user to quickly grade a tree without having to open multiple screens. “A”, “B”, and “C” buttons are available right on the measure screen for fast and easy grading. This season, we “spun off” the ABC Select feature for a blueberry grower using the FairTrak app to log blueberry buckets. This farm is strict about quality and minimizing “green” berries sent to the packing house. The farm management team implemented a “three strikes” policy. If a picker brings up green berries three times, he or she is sent home. This new way of using the ABC Select feature allows the grower to set parameters and associated messages so that checkers can easily flag workers picking bad fruit and track the number of “strikes”. The message “Send Home” will pop-up when the worker has picked too many buckets of bad quality fruit. In the office, it is also easy to filter on this data to identify which employee may not be welcomed back to pick.

Batch Mode with Crew Filtering
Many large farm operations run multiple crews and these crews need to be treated as one unit and kept separate from each other. Once an employee is clocked in to the FairTrak, QuickPick, or FairPick Lite apps, the Batch Mode feature allows crew leaders to clock multiple employees in and out of other tasks or breaks without individual employee badge scans. This can be helpful when an entire crew stops for a rest or lunch break or moves to a different field. Crew Filtering allows the crew leader to quickly sort workers by crew, making it even easier to utilize the Batch Mode feature to manage crews out in the field.

Auto-Trigger Container Barcodes
Container tracking can improve crop traceability. The Ruggedized Handheld Computers that run our labor tracking apps have a built-in 1D and 2D barcode scanner. This feature automatically turns on the barcode reader when the picker is prompted to scan the container tag. This will allow the grower to set up a station where one person will grab cherry lugs from a bin trailer, place the lug on the scale, scan the pre-printed barcode attached to the lug, and slide the lug off the scale onto a conveyor that is loading a truck. All of this will happen in about five to seven seconds. Eliminating bottlenecks with a new software feature can greatly increase efficiency and productivity while decreasing labor costs.

Reports that Pinpoint Costs
Knowing your costs is important, especially when times are tough. 2nd Sight farm labor tracking systems can collect the information you need to evaluate labor costs. Many growers have commissioned custom reports that display their labor data in a way that helps them better know their costs. Knowing your labor expenses per employee, cost center, task, variety, and field location is valuable information that can help a grower make better, more-informed decisions for the operation.


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