Hopes new tech will attract top cherry pickers

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
Central Otago cherry producer Tarras Cherry Corp has implemented New Zealand-developed orchard management technology this season to attract and reward productive workers.

Orchard and project manager Ross Kirk said the company was the first New Zealand cherry business to implement radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology developed by Auckland software firm Dataphyll.

"At a time when pickers are in short supply, investing in smart technologies is a way to attract and retain quality workers.

"We want to lead the charge as an innovative and progressive operation throughout the supply chain," he said.

The Dataphyll Grow software ensured pickers were paid for the exact weight of cherries they harvested, Mr Kirk said.

It provided an absolute volume of harvested fruit through scanning and weighing and linked the volume to the picker.

"Pickers know in real time how much they have picked and how much they will earn," he said.

"With workers being paid per kilo, there’s an incentive to fill buckets."

A smart picker could make good earnings because the more they picked, the more they got paid and it pinpointed "top performers" who picked above the minimum and could be eligible for bonuses, Mr Kirk said.

"Pickers can keep track of their earnings via an app on their phone.

"There’s no risk of other pickers being paid for their harvested fruit."

Traceability would be the immediate benefit this season.

"Over time, long-term data collection will allow orchard mapping to determine harvest volumes and ease control of fruit flow to the packhouse," Mr Kirk said.

Dataphyll chief executive and co-founder Christoph Kistler said the technology was developed to pay pickers for performance, not attendance.

"It tracks workers and buckets via ID tags which interface with mobile devices and weigh stations in the orchard."

The software, developed initially for the berry industry in 2015, had been extended to meet Tarras Cherry Corp’s needs, he said.

"A ‘runner’ collects picked buckets, which are placed on a weigh station.

"The weight is captured automatically via a unique identifier on the bucket."

Orchardists could review performance and production in real time, highlight best-performing workers and row-level yields and understand reject rates, Mr Kistler said.

The software had been integrated with Tarras Cherry Corp’s existing orchard and people management solution, known internally as Horthub.

Produced by Christchurch’s Prolorus Solutions on the Prolorus platform, Horthub captured hours worked, combined the productivity data captured by Dataphyll and calculated transactions required for payroll.

Prolorus chief executive Simon Lind said those included ordinary hours and performance bonuses, along with any other deductions such as accommodation.

The platform provided processes for recruiting and integrating employees, then managed wage calculations, he said.

"The automation of this process reduced a lot of paperwork and manual handling of data."



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