I try to keep up on a lot of the news related to the specialty crop and nursery industries. Every week, each Ag publication seems to have another article about labor. A recent article in Fruit Growers News entitled, “Growers get proactive for workers relations” is a must-read for any farm manager feeling the pains of finding, recruiting, and maintaining workers.

For any business, the employers’ relationships with staff can be complicated. In Ag, it’s complicated even further by job seasonality, wage rates, federal and state labor laws, food safety regulations and audits. However, anything an employer can do to improve the relationship with staff is going to create a company culture that makes the farm a better place to work. When labor supply is low, your farm needs to be more intentional about becoming the “employer of choice.”

In another article, "Ag census shows drop in farms, acres and income," the Capital Press summarizes data from the recent Ag Census: “Slightly more than half the farms, some 1.1 million, reported losing money. The average loss was $20,997 … For the farms that made money, the average gain was $125,754. In all, per-farm net income averaged $43,750, a 2% drop over five years earlier.”

What does this all mean? Your labor is likely your biggest expense and per-farm income has, on average, decreased in the recent years. It is critical to your farm’s success to manage labor well. If your farm income does not increase, then your expenses must decrease in order to be profitable or maintain profitability. How can you connect your team to reach new levels of productivity? Andrew & Williamson Sales, the company featured in the FGN article, is investing in their employees. By providing more and better training, clearly defining expectations, improving communication, and being more transparent, they are striving to be the “employer of choice”.

How is spending time and money on your employees going to save you time and money? High employee retention and return rates is one way. Training new employees is expensive. The “learning curve” of any new farm worker is expensive. And let’s face it, when you feel like you’re cared about, told that you’re an integral piece of the produce supply chain, and part of a team, you’re more willing to invest your own efforts. Fruit, vegetables, or ornamental trees left in the field won’t make you any money, either….

Where does better labor tracking come into play? Fairness and transparency. Building trust with your workers by implementing a system that pays fairly could be part of your farm’s labor solution. Money motivates. Make sure your workers are getting paid for all the work they’re doing from the minute they scan their employee badges, to the precise number of pounds of produce picked, to the piece count of trees pruned. The benefit of a 2nd Sight system? The employee can always get a record. Print field receipts via Bluetooth printer or 2nd Sight FlexHub printer so that the work is transparent and the paycheck is no surprise.

From the worker’s perspective, “I’m getting paid for every minute and every bit of my work.” From the grower’s perspective, “I’m only paying for the time worked and activities performed.” A win-win if you ask me.

As a company, we focus a lot on labor tracking. But in this article, i thought I would highlight the need for product tracking in another important part of the Ag industry--tissue culture propagation.

Propagating plants using tissue culture is a technique that has grown in popularity. There are many benefits of growing plants in a more controlled environment. However, tissue culture propagation presents its own challenges. Tracking hundreds and potentially thousands of jars through various stages is no easy feat.

Knowledge of what is where (inventory) and what came from where (product traceability) ensures the highest level of plant quality and the ability to properly predict and fulfill orders. Being able to plan based on timing through each stage is important. Like any business, profitability hinges on the knowledge of your inventory and how to best meet the needs of your customers with the right product at the right time.

For tissue culture operations, a system that can provide an up-to-date and accurate picture of culture stocks can help ensure success. TCTrak is a tool that can help you determine the why because you have data for the when, what, and by whom.

TCTrak is a software solution for laboratories looking to automate data collection. Attaching barcode labels on each jar gives you the opportunity to track that product from start to finish, documenting important details along the way including growth medium. Tagging every action with a date, time, and location generates real-time inventory information. Barcodes are an ideal and inexpensive way to have control over every stage of production, from initiation or generation, to propagation, rooting and delivery.

On the same rugged handheld, a tissue culture laboratory can track product, then easily switch gears and use the FairTrak app to record labor hours or piecework associated with performing work during every stage of the process. Manage your inventory and workforce using one cohesive software solution.

On Wednesday, I received my daily email from the Capital Press, the weekly Ag newspaper for farmers in the Northwest. The headline caught my attention quickly, “Lawsuits challenge piece rate pay.” Piece rate pay has been an integral part of the Ag operation for years, and now the concept is under fire.

Dan Wheat, author of the article, states, “Piece rate refers to paying workers for how much fruit they pick instead of paying them by the hour. It’s been used for decades. Workers say they like it because they make more money. Growers like it because they say it’s the most economical pay method. They say the loss of it would increase their costs.”

Sounds like a win-win to me! So, what’s the problem? Everyone is entitled to an opinion. However, regardless of why a law is written, or how a law is written and interpreted, documentation is crucial for a grower when a problem arises.
Today, you might pay workers piece rate for harvest and pruning tasks. Next season, you might switch to only hourly to avoid risk of lawsuit. Then, the pendulum will steady itself back into the middle. Make sure to Implement a data collection system that captures more, rather than less, and utilize that information to drive worker efficiency and maintain detailed and thorough employee records.

When you have employee productivity data at your fingertips, you can identify problems early, recognize where additional training is needed, and motivate those who may need that extra push. Hourly plus piece wage bonus pay may be the way of the future. Workers will receive a fair wage and those deserving will be rewarded for their hard work. That still doesn’t let the farmer off the hook for improving record-keeping and documenting expectations and guidelines.

Prevent uncertainty and additional stress. Collect the information that could support your case and accommodate a variety of employee pay structures so your farm can stay nimble when the next labor law, or newest interpretation of the law, hits the headlines.

Page 6 of 8