Labor tracking apps not only digitize time sheets and calculate costs, they optimize an orchard’s profitability. That’s how Cody Bishop, orchard technology and process manager of Price Cold Storage and Packing sees the big picture of the apps.
But Bishop, speaking on Day 2 of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association Annual Meeting, suggested growers considering the investment in labor apps should start small and prioritize goals. First, just try to eliminate the inevitable errors that come with filling out timecards by hand and manually entering the information into a spreadsheet, he said. Then add cost tracking, inventory and production metrics as you go. He has seen an app used to determine when to switch from hand blossom thinning to chemical thinning.
A panel discussion of labor tracking technology dominated the technology session of the afternoon.
The labor panel featured users of each of three platforms —Hectre, FieldClock and PickTrace — discussing the benefits they have found since implementing the apps. Speeding up payroll, monitoring orchard profitability by acre and automatically adjusting to changes in wage and hour requirements were just a few examples.
And all said it wasn’t hard to train employees to use the systems.
The grower-users, Jimmy Zingler of western New York, Josh Lawrence of Royal Slope in Washington and Steve Bradbury of First Fruits in Prescott, Washington, advised sharing a lot of information with the different vendors when shopping, to help them help you and sift out overpromises.
“It’s somewhat overwhelming,” Zingler said.
The technology session also featured a panel discussion on the Smart Orchard Project, which aims to give growers tools to sort through the wide array of sensor information available. It’s a collaboration between the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, Innov8.ag and Washington State University.
The team set up shop at a Columbia Reach block in 2020 but is looking for new collaborator sites in 2021, said Steve Mantle of Innov8.ag. For more information, visit https://www.innov8.ag/smartorchard.
The annual meeting continues on Dec. 9.
—by Ross Courtney