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Harrij Schmeitz:

“IT belongs on the management agenda”

Everyone can agree that IT, automation and digitising are changing the sector, but it appears to be trickier to translate those changes properly within the companies. That is why the EU Fresh Info Forum was first organised three years ago. This year, the third edition of the event has been planned. “It is a beautiful success that underlines the leading role the Netherlands are playing in this field,” says honorary chairman Harrij Schmeitz with justifiable pride.

The overarching theme continues to be making a catch-up effort to translate all the possibilities in the field of digitisation in the fresh produce sector. The Forum has four central themes, Schmeitz lifts a corner of the veil, or, maybe better: he reveals a small part of the code. “An important theme is how to get IT and information management on the agenda of management, because that is where these topics belong,” according to Schmeitz. IT influences all processes in companies, from logistics to quality and interaction with customers. Yet there are few managements that are actively involved with these topics.

Last year, the overarching theme was Horticulture 4.0.

The second pillar concerns the question: How do we find new employees who are at home in this digital world? “I recently participated in a Google workshop, the average age of participants was 27,” Schmeitz says. “I felt like a grandfather.” We also need to work hard to bridge the talent gap, which Schmeitz also experienced during his visit to Google. “Within IT there is a large shortage of employees. Students are already offered jobs when they are still in their third year of training.” The fresh produce sector adds another challenge to that, because IT workers do not just need to know the codes and systems, they also need to have an affinity with the sector. “We do not just need people working with computers, we need people who have green thumbs working with computers,” Schmeitz explains. “They need to understand the fresh produce world.”

A returning subject since the first Forum is product data. This year, that subject will also be in the spotlight. “Retail is asking for the correct data, but that is also important for the sector.” Companies are more active online, consumers want more online information, and robots are doing more and more work. However, that all needs a decent approach. “If a pallet is too high, a robot will not be able to see that,” Schmeitz illustrates. “The robot will just put the pallet in the rack, causing the top layer to fall off. A fork lift driver would say: ‘This does not fit.’”

Schmeitz’s fourth point is that cultivation information is becoming increasingly important. That does not just concern data about the location of the cultivation, but also the food safety and other cultivation-technique information. On the first day of the Forum, various company visits have been scheduled. Besides visits to Hillfresh and rooftop greenhouse De Schilde in Den Haag, a visit to Ter Laak Orchids has also been planned. Floriculture is ahead of vegetable cultivation regarding IT applications. “They chipped every flower pot,” Schmeitz says.

The Forum draws a great number of visitors from various countries. “The Netherlands really is a leading country in this field,” Schmeitz says. “It is wonderful that other countries are working on standards, but they do need to be exchangeable.” The core information of a product should be equal. Just as in previous years, the SS Rotterdam will be the backdrop for the Forum.

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