An Australian fresh produce labour management tool is expanding to the tree crop industry, with the development of an innovative automated GPS-based picking app in conjunction with a Riverland citrus grower.
AgPick Orchard – a new version of the existing established AgPick smart harvest tool – aims to boost productivity, assure traceability and help tree crop growers meet imminent Horticultural Award piece-rate requirements. Chief executive officer Henrietta Child says the current system requires supervisors to enter data into the system, but AgPick Orchard is streamlined for the orchard environment.
"Our existing AgPick smart harvest app works well with someone who is supervising pickers; scanning them in and out, and managing/using the app to count with or process what grades they have produced in the field," she said. "But citrus growers have pickers more spread out. They have big bins and have to manually communicate when the bins are full and need to be picked up by the truck. So, it makes sense to build a different version of our app, that allows for more autonomous operations. That has partly been facilitated by having some easy-to-use development tools, which are cross-platform. That means we don't need to worry about what phone a picker might have, so we can be confident that they will have a device that they can run an app with."
Photo: AgPick Orchard is being developed for the tree crop sector (Images source: Aqua Public Relations)
Currently, in the development phase, AgPick Orchard has been designed in collaboration with Ingy’s Citrus Pty Ltd, Berri, in time for peak season in April. Director and fourth-generation producer, Michael Ingerson expected the app would meet the business’s key objectives for compliance and traceability and save up to 15 hours a week in manual data collection, including counting and recording.
“We’re generally on the forefront with technology. If we can identify an automated way to save time and create efficiencies, we’re all for it,” he said.
The family-owned and operated grower-packer business produces five citrus lines over 300 hectares for export and domestic consumption year-round. Ms Child added that Ingy's had been in discussions with AgPick for some time, as the producer was interested in operational improvements but progress was slowed down through the COVID-19 pandemic.
"What they have come back to us with is very much supporting their pickers and reporting their productivity using their own phone via standard technology," she said. "Also, helping their drivers, who are out picking up the bins to work more efficiently and knowing where the bins are. We have been talking with them about GPS for a while, and it is not hard for us to do. Our apps support GPS – but this is the first time we’ve seen a way to deliver a significant benefit by using it. Michael has come back to us and said it will give him some significant savings, for a number of reasons, including that they have paperwork in some areas now, which they won't need anymore. But ultimately, because the workflow will improve, so it will save them with efficiencies."
Photo:AgPick is expected to create picking efficiencies at Ingy's Citrus
The AgPick CEO explains that the app would place control in the hands of pickers and tractor drivers and allow them to work autonomously, so it’s a ‘hands-off’ solution yet provides information about who picked a bin and where they picked it. The current AgPick reporting system will still be available to report pickers' progress and productivity including hours worked and break times. The app’s functionality is also designed to work with new piece-rate requirements coming into effect on April 28.
"We expect that it will be transferable to other industries, and I have already had interest from other citrus growers," Ms Child said. "Ultimately, we see it working in environments where groups of pickers are working to some extent autonomously. The new labour laws are saying that growers need to know what hours their pickers are working and the activity they are performing - but businesses we are talking to are just as interested in streamlining productivity as they are the new piece-rate laws. The new app is very light on data use and will run on most phones with GPS functionality. Training is minimal as the app does it all for us."
Last year, the Fair Work Commission ruled to vary the Horticulture Award to ensure that all pieceworkers must be paid a minimum hourly rate in accordance with the employee’s classification and type of employment - and as a result, producers must record details such as pieceworkers' attendance, hours, activity and the pay. AgPick Technology systems aim to provide companies with easy and accurate recording of time bookings and activity, including paid and unpaid breaks.
For more about AgPick Orchard or to become a tree crop beta tester:
Phone: +61 8 7127 1095