A new scanning technology called AgPick uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to give producers an edge when it comes to their labour management.
The technology was designed by South Australian company, Agricultural Picking Technology (APT), and is currently in use in wine grape and strawberry production with the mango, cherry and avocado sectors next to be targeted for the technology.
The RFID-based technology, launched only last year, aims to boost increase picking efficiencies in Australia’s horticultural sector.
APT said it developed the technology after identifying a need to improve the labour management of picking operations. This was amid a backdrop of tightening labour laws.
It enables producers who managed their own labour to transition from hourly rates to piecework rates through easy payroll integration, and provides transparent data that allowed pickers to see their pick rate and total earnings.
“AgPick’s hand-held scanners accurately record the number of vessels picked and match that number to the right picker, in the field,” APT CEO Henrietta Child said.
“The data is uploaded to a live feed via the cloud so producers can see what’s happening during harvest, what blocks are being picked or if the harvest has finished. It records how many pickers worked and what they picked, so they can be paid accurately for their day’s work. It takes paperwork out of the paddock.”
Child said the model provided a high level of worker visibility, and also gave producers greater autonomy over harvest decision making.
“Producers are able to see efficiencies, streamline their operations and save money. The tool provides what-if analysis to help calculate and adjust piece rates based on actual picking data. It also stores year on year yield data so they can see the impact of improvements on a block and make adjustments accordingly.”
Initially, Child said, there was the potential to work on cultural change within the wine industry in relation to labour hire and impending labour law changes.
“Growers told us it was hard to measure the labour costs for a particular block because there’s currently no automated way of doing that.
“When we started developing AgPick about two years ago, there was very little piece-rate management technology around globally and products varied from being very basic and clunky to simple counting apps. “
The company took an RFID-based approach, she says, as it provides a much more sophisticated and robust solution, and is also easier to use in the field.
AgPick also has a wide range of configurations and operational methods which can be applied to various picking operations.
“The move to piece rates is being driven by the demand for fair pay and we’ve come along at the right time to support that,” Child said.
“Our products enable producers to respond to the issue. They will equip them to deal with complex labour law changes, specifically in South Australia, Victoria and Queensland.
“Producers really want to do the right thing by their harvest workers. We’re giving them the tools to provide good working conditions and attract quality workers.”