Greenhouse costs are rising on all sides. This is an invitation to begin looking at savings. Labor is still the largest cost item. So, there is much to be gained, especially among growers who have not yet used any labor and crop registration systems. Yet it is particularly difficult to explain to them because unmeasured is unknown.
In the Netherlands, Jeffrey van Uunen of ProCC, however, expects more growers to eventually begin working with labor and crop registrations. "To be able to save money thanks to higher labor productivity. But also to motivate staff, reward, and direct them where necessary. The latter, however, is difficult if you don't have a labor overview," he begins.
Sadik Usluer and Jeffrey at HortiContact 2019
Jeffrey and Sadik Usluer founded ProCC in 2016. Their primary goal is to simplify business operations in greenhouse farming. No long Excel documents and hours of writing and manual processing of data. Just fast, easy, accurate labor and crop registration.
It uses software, smartphones, and NFC tags. Workers, paths, and carts are tagged. "It can, therefore, record all kinds of labor processes. And thus provide more and more data insight with which to optimize processes."
Jeffrey cites a strawberry grower as an example. He wanted to expand his ProCC system. The grower wanted to be able to register different kinds of classes and containers. "The customer was looking for a new system that better suited his needs. The recording method worked for them. But it took too much time, and people were making lots of mistakes. We discussed this with the client and looked at how we could simplify the process," he explains.
"We listened carefully to the grower's input. And eventually, we could simplify this process. The workers made fewer input errors, partly thanks to adding a visual aspect. The grower can now use our system to show per day which trays are to be used."
"The staff sees this in a clear picture. The system then indicates, during harvesting, how many trays are filled with either Class 1 or 2. In this way, the grower has quick, easy insight into his crop. Even before packaging begins," says Jeffrey.
Workers' data presented in a single overview. Click here to enlarge.
The registration has an additional benefit. The grower can say, see why more class 2 was harvested in a particular path. "Glancing at the climate computer can show issues, and the grower can act."
Greenhouse laborers also sometimes encounter pests or diseases. ProCC's app allows reporting such findings by adding a photo and message. "We want to expand that function even further and add it to our control app too. We offer this in addition to the labor and crop registration app. This function will become a scouting module in the control app," Jeffrey continues.
ProCC is currently making big changes to the control app. "Farm managers will soon have real-time insight into how employees are performing in the greenhouse. Our experience proves that when you control labor, people perform better. And labor productivity rises. Monitoring has a negative image, but we don't think it's a bad thing at all."
"If no one can see what people are doing, they usually don't work as hard. But, you also can't reward specific workers. You can't secure them with a better salary for good performance. And you can't direct them. When growers begin recording work, they know exactly where the hours go," says the software developer.
Everyone has a clear task
In Jeffrey's experience, labor and crop registration are even less established in ornamental plant cultivation than fruit and vegetables. "There are major gains to be made there. Though there are still gains to be made in other crops as well. Sometimes, for instance, by putting people in different positions. By registering work, for example, you can compare how people who do multiple tasks perform."
"It may turn out that someone is great at cutting leaves but picks fewer kilos per hour. Growers can better use that person for leaf cutting. Or you can pair someone who's already good at picking with someone who can still make progress. But then again, you have to have insight into work performance," he explains.
Energy prices are currently high, and people are (again) closely inspecting costs. "When planting, growers could feel their cultivation only costs money. You could do some sums, but labor remains the biggest cost item. And it's easy to save on that. Usually, customers say they (still) manage to save on labor."
"That's when using our system. We always say if you start working with our system and invest a little time in it for a week, you'll already see results a month later. That's because productivity increases. When you use the system properly, it easily pays for itself," Jeffrey says.
Recently, various robots have been introduced into the fruit-vegetable sector. It raises a question for labor providers and crop registration software. What is their role? "We're still truly focusing on human labor. But you could also register the robots' labor, and not just the speed."
"You want to know how the robot performs. And you could compare that with human performance too. We'd be open to a pilot project if we were to receive such a request. But, for now, I don't think our software will be linked directly to robots," adds Jeffrey.
As of late, customers have been wanting a direct overview of how people are working in the greenhouse. That, without having to log into a website on a larger computer. Jeffrey touched on this earlier. "This was a client's idea. We think it's a great one, so we're developing that. Once we can, we'll integrate it into our software for all customers, at no additional cost. Then everyone can benefit from such great ideas from the field."
Rolling out a completely updated ProCC software version is another development. "With this, we're speeding up the system's performance by 80%. That's important because an increasing amount of data is associated with labor and crop registration. We hope to introduce this version in 2022. We're currently working on the beta version in our test greenhouse," Jeffrey concludes.