Labor tracking programs help growers know their labor costs in near real-time, instead of after the pay period.
Specialty crop agriculture has unique aspects that make paying and tracking labor unlike any other industry. Few payroll and accounting software programs accommodate incentive pay; supervisors dealing with field labor typically are limited in their computer knowledge; workers may do different tasks throughout the day in different fields; and for most farmers, who wear many hats, information technology is not a strength.
And yet, growers of labor-intensive crops now operate under tighter margins than ever before and must know where their money is being spent if they are to stay in business. Labor is the largest input.
Jim Kelley, cherry grower from Pasco, Washington, said he has to focus on profitability if he wants to stay in business. “The only way I can drive my profits is to get my arms around my biggest input of labor, and know what it’s costing me. I’ve got to know how much I’m spending now, not once the pay period is done.”
A slowly growing trend in labor-intensive crops is the use of labor tracking programs. Several companies provide equipment to record worker activities and computer software to manage it.
Kelley, who owns 150 acres of sweet cherries and manages 500 acres of tree fruit as part of an orchard management company, views labor-tracking programs as a necessary tool for farmers. He’s spent years using an Excel spread sheet to account for his labor that’s spread among the different entities he manages. A local farmer developed the payroll software program years ago because commercially available payroll programs didn’t have a piece rate component. Time sheets are manually kept for each employee for each ranch, with the data hand-entered into Kelley’s computer payroll program.
With 60 to 70 people employed full time, Kelley’s seasonal work force swells to 300 to 350 during cherry harvest. “There is nothing like the payroll stress that comes with cherry harvest. It can be overwhelming to get that amount of payroll out within a matter of hours of finishing cherry harvest.”
But this cherry season, he will be using a labor tracking program, eliminating the long hours he and his wife normally spend on payroll. For the last few months, he’s been working to transition his system to a program developed by John Deere Agri Services that will record, store, and manage his labor information.
Getting the John Deere program to sync with his customized payroll system has taken some time, he said, adding that he wishes the John Deere program included its own payroll software component. And while he will be able to know what each labor activity costs almost instantly, he notes that the data generated won’t provide his total payroll cost. “I still have L & I