A Focus on What Farmers Can Control: Ag Tech, Management Tools, and Integrated Labor Systems

There is doom and gloom surrounding predictions of the impacts of climate change on water supply, degradation of soil, pollination, weed control, and lower specialty crop yields. Continued uncertainty about trade relations may take a toll on exports. An inability to create a cohesive immigration policy to provide adequate, timely, and legal labor for seasonal jobs when our domestic workforce can’t, or won’t, fill the need…. There are without question factors working against the Ag Industry that seem almost too big to control or change quickly. So, what can a farmer do today to keep the operation going?

It’s time to embrace innovation. Companies see what Ag is up against and are out to develop hardware and software solutions. Labor management technologies utilizing RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology, cloud-based mobile labor tracking apps, and payroll integration can greatly improve payroll accuracy which saves time and money. Scanning and data logging in the field allows for GPS traceability and a more streamlined process. Implementing electronic labor management cuts down work in the office and improves labor and yield records.

Labor management tools are nothing new. The good news: this technology is now adapted specifically for farms, orchards, and nurseries and they do not have to break the bank. There are solutions that exist that fit a budget of the 20- or 40-acre farm. This is important at a time when even the family farm needs to run like the thousand-acre operation.

It’s time to ask yourself, “How can my operation become more efficient?” But, can you even answer the question, “Where is the money and where are my farm’s resources going?” It’s time to explore solutions that will give you the data you need to analyze and review what your farm is doing right, where you can cut down on expenses (labor hours down to the block or row level), your workforce’s efficiency, and the direction you need to go to remain competitive in an uncertain Ag landscape.

Labor Saving Tech on Your Farm

A recent article in Greenhouse Grower piqued my interest. Roger Smith, General Manager of TreeSource Citrus Nursery is quoted in the article “Collaboration Powers Innovation at TreeSource Citrus Nursery”as saying, “What most people don’t grasp, especially with automation, is that it is not just about labor-saving technology. Oftentimes, it’s a complete rethink of your processes and being open to new ways of getting things done.”

It is easy to use the rational “because it’s how we’ve always done it.” But, is this way of thinking going to keep you in business long-term? Labor is typically a company’s highest expense, so it’s crucial for any business to address and evaluate its labor costs. Then, management must determine how labor-saving technology could keep your farm or nursery competitive.

Sometimes, it takes more than a return on investment (ROI) calculation to convince a company (or yourself) to do something different. As Smith expressed, it may also require a shift in mind-set. Let technology move your farm or nursery forward. Tools that provide precision agriculture data cut down the waste, the over-payments and the labor hours while providing you with date to effectively evaluate the true profitability of a particular variety and location.

Retire the punch cards, manual time sheets, and prehistoric time clocks. Electronic labor records, RFID and barcode data collection, precise counts and weight measurements, detailed audit trails, GPS mapping, automated payroll report imports…. don’t be the last grower to get on board, because you may as well be left behind at the station.

“People who appear to be resisting change may simply be the victim of bad habits. Habit, like gravity, never takes a day off.”
― Paul Gibbons, The Science of Successful Organizational Change: How Leaders Set Strategy, Change Behavior, and Create an Agile Culture

Paying Fruit Pickers Per Pound or Kilo

A specialty crop picker’s first day’s pay for hand-harvest work could be less than minimum wage. Pairing a novice picker with a seasoned employee can dramatically improve a picker’s technique so that he or she earns $20, $30, $40… maybe even $50 an hour. However, this requires you to have picking rate data available quickly to compare to minimum wage calculations. Until then… the training period is on your dime.

If you could get this information with the click of a button, wouldn’t it be foolish not to utilize the technology? And from a fruit picker’s perspective, why work harder and faster if it doesn’t seem possible to make more than minimum wage? It can be as easy as running a report that automatically flags pickers under the minimum wage pay.

The best hand-harvest pickers want to make money. Paying field workers by the unit provides the opportunity to earn more money and attract good workers. The best workers pick faster and better-quality produce. Some farms have the advantage of a large workforce and long picking season. They can utilize 1,000 workers over their entire picking and pruning seasons. Not everyone is so blessed. No one makes money on unpicked fruit or vegetables left to rot in the fields.


If I know each bucket holds 20 lb., why not pay by the bucket?


From a picker’s perspective, I just need the bucket to look full in order to receive full credit. As a picker, I don’t care if there is 20 lb. in the bucket—the lighter the better! We all know that “fluffing” makes the bucket look full. Sure, the produce might bruise… but that’s not a picker’s concern.

Suppose the farmer is clever and weighs the bucket to make sure it is at least 20 lb. How will this create more trust and employee satisfaction and retention when pickers feel cheated every time they bring in a bucket over 20 lb.?

Pay by weight to eliminate many of the problems that arise from the “pay by the bucket” mentality. Use the FairPick Pro or FairPick Lite systems when harvesting high-value specialty crops such as cherries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and cherry tomatoes.