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AU: Are documentation and records really that important to protect my business?

Critical to demonstrating compliance for all certification programs, private or government, are the requirements for well documented and consistently maintained records that will verify activities including inputs being free of contaminants and staff are complying with hygienic production protocols.

This is not surprising as records are the primary form of evidence that an auditor, private or government, relies on for verification of any past activities plus it is also key for growers and managers to confirm if production activities have been carried out and for detecting any issues with plant health and quality.

Having these records in place certainly shields your business from production processes that are not being carried out appropriately.

What are documents and records in a BioSecure HACCP system?
Effective records are ones that are documented on time, provide sufficient dated historical facts of the activity and are linked for traceability (on a per batch basis) right from the time of planting to the customer purchase. Some examples of documentation that are common in a certified production nursery practicing hygienic systems such as BioSecure HACCP are pest monitoring, import and dispatch inspections, staff training, sanitation and water testing records, all of which go a long way to protect the integrity of your business but more importantly provide you as the manager the confidence that you have control.

“ What gets monitored gets measured, what gets measured gets managed, what gets managed gets improved.” Robin S. Sharma

For many growers this is standard practice, but unfortunately for some other growers adhering to all of this documentation process on-farm can seem overbearing, excessive and perceived as having no real value. This often means higher priority is given to the hands-on duties and as a consequence there is reduced record keeping which can expose the business to a serious level of risk from pest and pathogen infestations that will only surface when it becomes exceedingly obvious through crop damage.

Whilst hands on duties are important continuing the documenting and recording of activities should be treated as of equal value and to be used as a tool to improve production practices and create opportunities within the business, not as something to avoid or drop off.

Why is it important?
The purpose of documentation on-farm is to provide objective evidence that what is actually happening can be measured and recorded. There are two parts to documentation:
  • one is the procedure i.e. work instructions, for how we want the process of the activity to be carried out: and
  • two is the record is documented at the time of the production activity which confirms when and who carried it out. A basic example of this can be an equipment sanitation record as seen below.
Why do we have these documented processes?
Simply put, it is so procedures and work instructions can be communicated to key staff and feedback gathered from the recorded information. Staff and managers can assess the data under an objective review system forming the basis of a continuous improvement process as demonstrated in this cycle below.

This real-time feedback is critical for some businesses where it is not possible for the manager to be supervising the entire production process or managing high staff turnover areas.

It is pointless to have what you believe as the best systems in place if firstly, due to poor training, communication or having no procedures in place, your staff are not able to carry out their duties effectively and efficiently and secondly you have no record that an activity actually occurred.

Also, not having this recording process in place makes corrective action a hit and miss affair as you do not have sufficient information for a traceback investigation, which could mean the difference between a quarantine of the entire production nursery (real risk losing customers and/or market access) or just focusing on a small group of plants that can be isolated via well maintained records.

What other value can be realized?
The objective of every grower is to produce from each batch of plants a high percentage of Grade 1 salable produce and to limit plant failures in each batch as this eats into the businesses profitability. By focusing heavily on propagation, particularly the early stages of plant growth, with tight procedural documentation and regimented monitoring records that are reviewed by management at these key times (both real-time, during or end of season) the opportunity to reduce the failure/mortality rate is very high. Of course, this should be maintained right up to the point of sale.

If designated personnel are not documenting and recording these key activities and the management not constantly reviewing then some other consequences that can affect your business are:
  • more inputs and resources (costs) will be required due to remedial action to save the crop(s),
  • cause delays in the production cycle and potential financial penalties,
  • impact on your reputation as a safe, reliable and quality producer.
Another recognized value of documentation and records is in the implementation of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs. These programs usually require good staff training for correct monitoring techniques and pest identification as well as maintaining appropriate records to pick up pest and beneficial trends early. This is necessary for IPM as the options for control usually take more time to overcome the infestation which, if applied too late, may breach the tolerance threshold for plant damage.

Fortunately for the Nursery Industry we have excellent prescribed programs such as NIASA and BioSecure HACCP that provide a high standard in procedural guidelines, documentation and record keeping for growers to implement on-farm with government recognition. Please refer to the Nursery Production Farm Management System (Nursery Production FMS) website and for more information on the BioSecure HACCP program please contact NGIA at email: [email protected].

source: Nursery & Garden Industry Australia

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