Agpick's solution for piece rates on cherry farms

AgPick Technology is experiencing a second wave of interest in its harvest management tools as Australian cherry growers move to ensure compliance with Horticulture Award piece rate rules ahead of the coming season.

AgPick Technology entered the cherry space last year when its AgPick tool was implemented at Cherries Tasmania Orchards ahead of the 2021 harvest.

It was a decision driven by Fair Work’s ruling that growers must keep accurate records of time and activity for pieceworkers and pay the minimum hourly rate under the variation to the Horticulture Award.

Cherries Tasmania Orchards’ managing director Nic Hansen described his operation’s positive experience with the AgPick system at the annual Fruit Growers Tasmania conference in Hobart in May, explaining how his organisation had used the technology to track progress and manage the efficiency of his harvest workforce.

AgPick Technology chief executive officer Henrietta Child said Mr Hansen’s presentation ‘Using digital tools for managing harvest labour’ had prompted an upswing in enquiries from the cherry industry.

She said the tech firm, which exhibited at the conference, was now working to help various growers achieve compliance for the 2022 season.

“We evolved AgPick’s functionality for Cherries Tasmania and it can be easily applied to any cherry operation quickly,” Ms Child said.

Labour management under the new Award was a key focus at the conference with sessions including what the changes mean for growers and what the future of seasonal labour looks like.

AgPick uses state-of-the-art RFID technology to capture data at the source and can read QR codes, bar codes, UHF, and NFC tags. It can work with technology already in place as well as mix and match workflows to tailor the user experience to the farm’s needs.

While AgPick relies on mobile devices and data upload, it makes use of mobile touch screen technology to reduce or eliminate the need for tray tagging.

The system supports both hourly and piece rate operations and allows individual workers to easily move between hourly and piece rate as they gain experience.

“AgPick uploads information in real time. It can tell the shed what’s coming from the field – what type of fruit, volumes and grade which both enhances productivity and creates efficiencies,” Ms Child said.

Victorian Cherry Association president and Wandin Valley Farms chief executive officer Alison Jones said the cherry industry was renowned for being proactive in meeting industry regulations and for fairly treating pickers.

“However, there will still be growers that will need to implement a procedure before the coming season. The association is actively encouraging and supporting them to do so,” Ms Jones said.

“The fact that this is going to require an increase in staffing is one issue as staff numbers are already difficult. The other is an increase to production costs to implement technology.

“The obligation is known, but it’s knowing how to handle it that is the issue for growers. The AgPick program is definitely a great solution that is proven to assist and is easy to use.”

The VCA – which has some 25 members – had outlined the piece-rate obligation in its grower communications and via its website since it became regulation in April and would continue to educate growers ahead of the October-to-February season, she said.

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