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Over seven years ago, I started at 2nd Sight. At that time, we had some new ideas and an office building that needed a little elbow grease. Born and raised just north of Seattle, I knew very little about agriculture in Washington State. Well, I knew that we grow apples. I had a lot to learn about the specialty crop industry. As I begin my next career endeavor in a new industry, I wanted to take this opportunity in my last blog post to summarize a few thoughts about working in Ag.

Farmers Have a Lot of Rules to Follow
Regulations are important; however, there are a lot of things a farmer must think about to stay compliant. From pesticide/fertilizer applications, food safety tracking, and labor, it can be difficult for growers to follow all the rules, even with good intentions to do so. Since I started in the industry, Washington State has even seen changes to how existing labor laws are interpreted in agriculture (rest breaks and overtime, for example). A moving target is hard to hit! There can also be a disconnect between the folks making the rules and reality in the fields and orchards that can be frustrating for many growers.

Farmers Face Many Challenges
Speaking of frustrations…. The Ag industry continues to face challenges including labor shortages, increased regulations, rising input costs, international trade disputes, heightened pressures from pests, extreme weather events, and COVID-19 complications. Although growers may not be the fastest to adopt new technology, they are forced to get creative to keep their farms and orchards afloat. Although it sounds bleak, farms continue to become more efficient and productive which is impressive and commendable.

Farming is Still a Family Affair
Although consolidation is the direction of the Ag industry, many 2nd Sight customers are family farms. From the 10-acre plot to the 1000-acre operation, these farms are run fully or partly by the same families, passed down from generation to generation. When you bite into a Washington sweet cherry, apple, or pear, there is still a good chance that that piece of fruit has a story behind it.

Farmers Work Hard
Most look forward to the summer months, taking off a little early on a Friday to head to the lake, vacationing with the family, getting lost in the woods fishing, hiking, or camping… for farming, summer means business. When harvest is in full swing, growers work seven days a week, from dawn ‘til dusk. I can tell you from those early morning support calls that cherry harvest in Washington starts at about 4:30am. Mother nature never takes a day off and timing is critical. A farmer’s work schedule is not for everyone.

It has been a pleasure and honor to work in an industry that feeds our country and the world. I will miss working with great people who are giving it their all to grow quality produce and nursery stock. It is important to spread the word that fruit and vegetables do not come from grocery stores. Our produce is the fruits of labor of many hardworking people who strive to perfect the science and art of farming. 


The Capital Press released an article last month detailing the top ten crops in Washington State by value in 2020 according to NASS statistics. The total production value was $10.2 billion, an impressive figure! This blog post is a spotlight on agriculture in Washington as we wrap up another “fruitful” year of farming.

Here are the stats:

1. Apples: $2.1 billion
2. Milk: $1.19 billion
3. Wheat: $949 million
4. Potatoes: $753 million
5. Cattle: $693 million
6. Cherries: $562 million
7. Hay: $500.74 million
8. Hops: $444.9 million
9. Grapes: $302.1 million
10. Eggs: $220 million

 

There is no question that the official state fruit should remain the apple. Red Delicious, Gala, and Fuji varieties still make up half of the total production. However, more and more “boutique” and club varieties are making their way onto grocery store shelves. If you haven’t tried an Ambrosia, Opal, Lemonade, or SugarBee, those are a few of my favorites.

Production value may have risen by 7% from 2019 to 2020, but expenditures rose 15% over the previous year. That is a significant jump! As for many industries and businesses, labor costs topped the charts for Washington growers as the number one expense, making up 27% of expenditures, according to NASS.

As a farm labor software provider, we try to keep up with the rules related to agricultural workers One challenge is every state plays by different rules. The second biggest challenge, these rules seem to be constantly changing. Our Washington farmers are up against complex employee labor laws—especially if they pay workers piece rate. Starting January 1, 2021, agricultural operations in the Evergreen Statue must track the following:

Minimum Wage

Washington State will top the nation with the highest minimum wage. In less than two months, minimum wage will jump from $13.69 to $14.49, a 5.8% increase. Back in 2012, just 10 years ago, the state minimum wage was only $9.04. In a decade, the minimum wage increased by 60%!

Paid Breaks

Many growers are now accustomed to tracking paid break time for piece rate workers to ensure that they are getting compensated for rest breaks. This calculation can get complicated since the rate of pay varies per employee. The rest break pay is based on the worker’s average weekly hourly piece rate. The logistics of having employees log break time is a challenge itself. Accurately tracking break time and performing the complex calculations can make payroll a headache. For farms that have not upgraded to digital tracking and comprehensive payroll software, it can be a real nightmare!

Nonproductive Time

Tracking nonproductive time applies to piece rate workers. When fruit pickers, for example, must move to a different field or perform work related to the harvest that does not directly earn them pieces, the farm must compensate them for this time at the state’s minimum wage rate. This time must be tracked separately, adding another layer to track for field and office staff.

Overtime

Starting January 1st, Washington State farms must start paying all agricultural workers for overtime. Any hours that exceed a 55-hour work week will be compensated at time and a half. The new rule will phase in over three years. They ensure overtime pay for any time worked over 48 hours a week in 2023 and 40 hours a week by 2024.

Washington farms and orchards are up against a lot. In recent months, fertilizer prices and other input costs have increased dramatically as well. Labor is only one piece of the puzzle, and growers will have to get more creative and efficient to meet the new and continued challenges of farming. However, I am impressed, and proud to live in a state that provides so much food for the country and even outside of our borders. At 2nd Sight, we hope to support and collaborate with farms of all sizes to ensure the success of the industry as we move forward.


I received an email this week from an organization that offers free webinars about trade and export fundamentals. The first video that piqued my interest was, “Selecting the Best Logistics Partners in Global Trade.” Two weeks ago, we shipped two pallets with 10 FairPick scales to a blueberry grower in Chile. In two more weeks, we will send five more pallets of FairPick’s down for the 2021 South American berry harvest. We would not be able to transport these harvest scales successfully without a freight forwarder--especially right now with such large shipping challenges and delays.

It is critical that shipping and customs goes smoothly for this implementation. When blueberries are ready to harvest, they will not wait for a late truck or customs clearance. Cost is an important piece of the logistics puzzle, but reliability and trust are equally important factors in this transaction. This webinar emphasized the word “partner” when choosing a global freight forwarder. The idea of finding “partners” in business versus simply suppliers or vendors is an important topic that made me reflect on how our team at 2nd Sight wants to do business.

Not every relationship has the potential to become a partnership. However, when the product or service is integral to the success of your business (like shipments to our new customer in Chile), it is important to make intentional decisions about who you work with to reach your organization’s goals. Here are some elements to consider when deciding on your next product or service supplier.

Trust

Trust is an important foundation in any personal or professional relationship. Being honest and transparent can help establish a good partnership. As a vendor, sometimes you must turn down a sale if you know the products will not meet expectations or the time frame to deliver is unachievable. Trust must be earned. Do you trust that the company is telling you the whole truth and has your back when, not if, things go awry?

Respect

Respect is another attribute, like trust, that is earned. Working with a company that aligns with your values, goals, and mission ensures a culture of cooperation. Doing the right thing should be rooted in the company’s culture. Do you feel that the company respects your time, your employees, and other stakeholders in your business transactions?

Grow Together

There is a value to a company to retain customers. Repeat business is the best kind of business, limiting the cost and time of onboarding. It is also a win for the customer to continue working with the same vendor because it keeps the learning curve low. In some cases, conceding on a short-term proposal is a necessary step in winning the long-term business and you want to work with a company that comes into negotiations with this mindset. It really comes down to helping each other when necessary so business is mutually beneficial. Will this business be able to grow and adapt to your needs in the short- and long-term?

Communicate

Mutual, regular, and constructive feedback allows partners to maintain a healthy relationship. Nothing is more frustrating than needing help and being unable to reach somebody. Poor communication leads to a lack of trust and respect. Delayed or impersonal support may make even the best product or service undesirable. As mentioned above, do you trust that this supplier will be there to pick up the phone when, not if, things go wrong?

Fair Price

The traditional bidding method to select a supplier works well when the relationship ends with the transaction’s end. However, if the product or service is an important aspect of your business that is used frequently, selecting a business based solely on the lowest price does not guarantee you will have a partner that cares about your success. Do both parties have shared risk, or “skin in the game”? Price should be a factor in considering your next partner, but make sure it is not the sole reason you selected the supplier.

At 2nd Sight, we aim to establish trust by not over-promising, being transparent with what we offer, and when we can deliver. We strive to evaluate whether our labor tracking software or nursery caliper are good fits for growers who are interested before making a sale. As a startup, it can be a challenge to emphasize that our company and team is in this relationship for the “long-haul”. We plan to be around to support our customers and products after the sale and adapt to changing times, needs, and rules. Our company values quality and reliability in every aspect of our business. And, when there is a problem, our 24/7 support line gets you to somebody who can help resolve the issue. We want to grow with our growers because we know that our farm management software can only improve with the feedback and insight from our customers who take our systems out to the farm and orchard. We hope to continue building strong partnerships with farmers in mutually beneficial business relationships.


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