Information Automation to grow your knowledge and grow your business

ABC Software founder Sharon Chapman spoke on Information Automation at Hort Connections 2023; Australia and New Zealand’s largest horticulture conference and trade show.

Learn what information automation is – it might be a lot simpler than you think!  Sharon considers the attitudes towards, and use of, digital technology in horticulture.  She discusses how and what information can be captured on a farm and the opportunities to enhance productivity from the insights this data delivers.

Information affords knowledge, which affords efficiencies, which affords growth.

“Using ABCgrower for us has benefitted the business in the sense that we can see where our costs are.”
Johnny Milmine, General Manager
Berry Farms NZ

Pay pruning per piece

Pay pruning per piece

With the FWO changes to the Horticulture Award many growers have put piece rates in the too hard basket, but there are still many advantages so long as you have the right tools for the job. Purpose built software will take care of the complex calculations required under the Award, as well as providing traceability to who has pruned what, not to mention keeping on top of your budgets. You can’t control the weather, but labour costs blow outs are a nasty surprise you can avoid.

ABC Software’s labour management software, ABCgrower, comes inclusive with a module created specifically for collecting non-harvest activities by piece. The Worker Allocation module allows you to assign one or more workers to a row and record the number of trees or vines each worker has pruned. You have visibility to who is where, what has been done, and what is left to do, at all times. When you perform quality checks you know who pruned the tree/vine.

Designed for use on the ABCgrower App, which works without an internet connection, means you can capture information anywhere on the farm without concern about being in internet range. Information is uploaded to the website when a data connection is available and synchronised across all devices.

Information-rich records give visibility to workers productivity, and if you measure, you can manage. See how your workers are performing, make decisions in real-time, and keep on top of your labour costs. Then use this season’s data to better plan for next year. Smart Berries Australia Agronomist and Assistant Farm Manager Sally Jolly says “We got real time data that very quickly showed us how fast people were working. It made day-to-day forecasting much, much easier.”

With ABCgrower’s highly flexible system you can pay piece rate or pay hourly, or record by piece and convert to an hourly payment with an optional bonus incentive. You do it your way while ABC does the calculations. Managing Director of Widem Farming Wim van Niekirk choses ABCgrower to help pay piece rate saying “You can show the workers exactly what they’ve done, how much they’ve earned, what their friends have done, and they realise they got so close to making extra money. The productivity the day after goes through the roof.”

ABCgrower also offers tools for collecting harvest information, again collecting by piece means a wealth of information; and you can assess the productivity of your workers and your plants. As well as bin/container inventory management with traceability to who picked what. Up-to-date productivity and block cost reports are always on hand at the click of a button.

Another valuable tool in ABC’s shed is their digital spray diary, ABCspray, which can be used in conjunction with ABCgrower or stand-alone. It supports spraying, fertiliser applications and fertigation. Compliance ready reporting is always available and again, ABC takes care of the calculations – so you can get growing.

The FWO rule changes have made paying piece rates for pruning challenging for growers, but the challenges can be taken out of your hands. Good software not only does the hard work but affords operational efficiencies which means direct returns to your bottom line.

Aussie’s on notice: Do the right thing, or else…

Aussie’s on notice: Do the right thing, or else…

18 months into their agriculture strategy, the Australian Government Fair Work Ombudsman continues to investigate businesses for non-compliance. To date inspectors have issued 64 Infringement Notices for pay slip and record-keeping breaches, with fines totalling over $176,000. 55 of the notices were issued to labour hire companies with the remaining nine to growers. The Government is now considering national labour hire regulation.

It’s positive that compliance is higher where growers employ their staff directly, however where they do engage labour hire companies, they’re not out of the firing line. Growers must protect themselves by ensuring their labour hire companies are also compliant. “It’s a red flag if workers can’t identify their employer and are paid cash-in-hand, without pay slips, by individuals seemingly unrelated to the apparent employing entity. This is prevalent in multi-level supply chains where we consistently find wrongdoing.” says Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker. 110 investigations are ongoing, many of these related to the pieceworkers’ minimum wage guarantee. 

Citrus Australia CEO Nathan Hancock voices the concerns in his sector where labour costs are skyrocketing. This is due to the cost of recruiting inexperienced workers, minimum wage top up payments and administration costs. He notes “These rising costs would be bearable if there was a corresponding increase in productivity”. Increases in productivity are possible, but to achieve this growers must consider information automation. With visibility to real-time productivity growers can take action in actively managing their workers. Users of ABCgrower, ABC Software’s labour management software, report significant gains in efficiencies and cost savings.

In fact, the calculations and record-keeping requirements have become such that it’s not viable to manage without purpose-built tools. Horticulture-specific software does minimum wage calculations, provides the tools for competency compliance and allows growers to accurately set piece rates. Uptake of software is on the increase, as Ms Parker notes “During our inspections we’ve had growers show us their sophisticated software that tracks productivity and ensures Horticulture Award compliance.”

Being an ethical and responsible employer is not just the right thing to do, Ms Parker’s message is clear “With unannounced hot spot inspections continuing this year and next, growers and labour hire entities are on notice. They may get a visit from Fair Work Inspectors very soon – and we will take enforcement action where appropriate.” Contact ABC Software to see how labour management software can protect against FWO non-compliance and help increase productivity.

Changes to the Australian Horticulture Award – in practice

Changes to the Australian Horticulture Award – in practice 

The Fair Work Ombudsman continues to inspect businesses and issue infringement notices for non-compliance regarding the minimum wage guarantee introduced in Australia in April of this year. Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said employers were expected to apply the rules correctly, “Record-keeping is the bedrock of compliance. Employers who fail to meet these obligations are more likely to be underpaying, whether intentionally or not.”

In the first quarter of 2022 the team at ABC Software developed tools to accommodate the legislation changes. We have expanded and refined this functionality working with our clients through the year and into their harvest.

The reality is the record-keeping requirements are considerable and horticulture-specific software is key in meeting obligations. “We were pleased to see that some farmers have used technology to make it easier to pay their workers correctly under the award changes. We commend those who do the right thing and hope other farmers are encouraged by these practical methods to ensure compliance,” Ms Parker said.

We continue to develop our products and are currently reconfiguring the ABCgrower App to allow in-field editing of worker time records, in conjunction with settings allowing you to determine to what level time records must be collected. We remain true to our ethos of offering flexibility and providing tools, not rules, to help you meet your obligations. Talk to us to understand your options and gain insight into how growers are dealing with the legislation changes.

Taking your spray diary online

Taking your spray diary online

The old adage of “it’s not broke, don’t fix it” is out-of-date in today’s landscape where every opportunity for automation and increased efficiency should be explored. Ditching the paper in favour of an electronic spray diary is one such opportunity.

By taking your spray diary online you get accurate and timely information, calculations done for you, and no missing information or transcription errors from double entry or illegible handwriting! Enter your information once only and use it everywhere.

With ABCspray you can enter or access data anywhere on any device with an internet connection. ABC Software’s founder Sharon Chapman says “Your information is stored securely in the Cloud so there is no need to worry about backups or lost records. Having records available at the click of a button means no more searching for paper records.” Reports are reproducible at any time.

ABCspray holds sprayer calibration settings, water rates and application rates. Whether you accept your default rates, or make changes on the fly, the calculations are done for you. Flexible yet accurate software means you can worker smarter, not harder.

Good software will allow you to record all information required for compliance and this is underpinned by the information security provided by user access permissions, secure data storage and greater transparency. ABCspray supports you to meet your compliance requirements while remaining flexible. As Ms Chapman says, “we provide you the tools, you choose what information to record, according to your business requirements.”

A Consumables Management module is included with ABCspray at no extra cost. Chemical usage is recorded automatically, and you can track your chemicals and any other stock item by quantity and location. Multiple storage locations are supported, and you can carry out stocktakes online.

ABCspray sits within ABC’s worker management software, ABCgrower, and when used together it can automatically create timesheet records for your spray operators, and agrichemical costs are included in block cost reporting. “It’s made things heaps easier in the office; a life saver is how it’s been described” says Smart Berries farm manager Sally Jolly. There is no need to enter data into different systems, it increases reliability, and you can stay in one system to get information to make informed decisions. It also means having a relationship with one company.

ABC have a reputation for great customer service, summed up by Fresh Produce Group support analyst Megan Rogers, “Your team is such a pleasure to work with”. While paper might seem the cheap option, with the ease of use, time saving and record-keeping efficiency that software affords, ABCspray will save you money.

Minimum Wage Guarantee – Are you Ready for Harvest?

Are you ready for harvest? And we don’t mean your produce.

A minimum wage guarantee was introduced in Australia in April 2022 for horticultural workers who are paid piece rate . For many growers, the upcoming harvest will be the first time they’ve had to put the new rules into practice.

To meet requirements, employers have far greater record-keeping obligations, including recording the hours worked by a pieceworker in each task they do. Employers must also keep records of their workers competency in each task, which is defined as having at least 76 hours’ experience performing the task.

Workers whose earned hourly rate falls short of the minimum wage must be paid a top up for the shortfall. Further, the piece rate set for each task must allow for the average competent worker to earn the equivalent of at least 15% above the minimum hourly rate for the worker’s classification.

The administrative burden of the additional record keeping, and the complex calculations required to ensure workers are paid correctly in relation to the minimum wage and competency, are driving growers to drop piece rates altogether.

Paying hourly, however, comes with its own problems. Growers must ensure their workers’ hours fit within a long list of rules or face paying overtime. The very nature of harvest means that overtime rates are often applicable. What’s more, productive workers are incentivised by piece rate payment and growers potentially become unattractive to workers if their pay rates are not competitive.

Whether paying piece rate or by the hour, easy-to-use, robust software like ABCgrower is a must. With harvest underway at Smart Berries, farm manager Sally Jolly says “it’s made things heaps easier in the office; a life saver is how it’s been described”. ABC’s labour and farm management solution, ABCgrower, avoids double handling of information, reduces errors and risk of lost records. It is purpose built, and as founder Sharon Chapman says “it does all the complex calculations at the click of a button”. Remarkable Orchards manager Mark Sim agrees “doing the wages now is so straightforward. It works out the top ups automatically, and as there’s no more paperwork, we don’t agonise over poor handwriting. It really has made everyone happy.”

ABCgrower is horticulture-specific and offers productivity reporting, invaluable information for increasing efficiencies on the farm. With the information ABCgrower provides and incentive of fair wages and unlimited piece rate earnings for his workers, Widem Farming’s managing director Wim van Niekerk paid minimum wage even before the legislation change. Mr van Niekerk says “you can show the workers exactly what they’ve done, how much they’ve earned, what their friends have done and they realise they got so close to making extra money. The productivity the day after goes through the roof.”

As well as providing tools for worker management, ABCgrower has other benefits such as traceability, block cost information, and inventory/bin management, all in one system. Koala Cherries Chris Nealon says “time is very critical in a cherry harvest. With the ABC integration we have data at our fingertips. Our marketing team, our production team, in fact everyone can all see the information they need quickly and easily. It’s made us hugely more efficient”.

The ongoing inspections by the Fair Work Ombudsman, which have already seen fines issued, indicates there’s no room for non-compliance on the minimum wage legislation. The produce isn’t going to wait to be picked while growers sort out a solution, and nor is the FWO. ABC Software offers an obligation-free customised demonstration and a free 45-day trial with training. Growers who haven’t investigated a software solution should contact ABC today.