Peace of mind with new monitoring tools
Instant access to all sorts of information about his capsicum crop is making life a lot easier for Waiuku grower, Gaven Naylor.
He is also pleased that the work that Bumpercrop founder, Adam Forbes, has carried out in his greenhouses over recent months is adding to tools that other growers may be able to make good use of in the future.
“It’s been good to see an enthusiastic young person get started in the horticultural industry and turn his ideas into reality,” he says.
“It gives you peace of mind because you’re trying to maximise everything and you can’t afford to have stuff-ups. You need to be running close to 100% all the time and this is another tool to do that.”
Gaven and his wife, Vanessa, bought Fresh West back in 2004 when it was one of the largest capsicum growing operations in the country. They had previously grown hypericum, gypsophila and carnations as well as melons. They quickly expanded the 7,000 square metres of glasshouses at Fresh West to one hectare.
A close working relationship with M G Marketing saw them develop Wee Sweeties, a small snack-sized variety, then King Sweeties, a long sweet red capsicum of the Palermo variety. With three greenhouses they have three staggered plantings to extend supplies to supermarkets and fruit shops for year-round production.
Gaven first heard about Bumpercrop earlier in the year and was immediately attracted by the idea of being able to have instant access to information about what was happening to his crop in real time.
“Margins are growing smaller all the time and anything you can add to stop growing outside maximum production parameters helps,” he says.
He was also attracted by the bang for buck which Bumpercrop was able to deliver through use of Wi-fi.
“There are other systems out there but they are a lot more expensive,” he says.
So Adam brought a trial version of a greenhouse sensor system out to set up on site to monitor exactly what was happening in the slabs in which the capsicums were growing. Another big advantage was that the system was straightforward and easy to install, taking just a few minutes before information was being received.
“I was never 100% sure in the past, but now I know I can rely on the data I'm receiving I can really fine tune things. I can see EC trends and adjust them.” GAVEN NAYLOR
“We could have used hand-held sensors but that takes time,” Gaven explains.
While the Bumpercrop sensors can be moved, he generally keeps them in the same places, measuring water content, temperature and electrical conductivity (EC).
“I always knew that there were variations there, but they weren’t quantifiable,” he says.
“I was never 100% sure in the past, but now I know I can rely on the data I’m receiving I can really fine tune things. I can see EC trends and adjust them, whereas in the past there was a lot of walking around taking samples. And things can change in a day depending on the weather.”
Gaven has set up maximum and minimum alerts at very close to optimum levels so that if there’s a breach at either end of the scale a text alert will be sent to him.
“It tells me exactly what the problem is and what’s wrong. I’m straight in here to find out what’s happened and I can sort it out immediately.”
The system also gives him an increased level of monitoring ability when things are going well, helping to avoid any future issues before they arise.
“If the EC levels are dropping away I can look at EC concentrations or the watering frequency to keep within the optimum levels. I can make adjustments to stop things happening which I previously would never have known about.”
He expects that over time the system will help boost productivity.
“I know from experience that the less hiccups along the way, the better. But usually you didn’t find out until the next day. I definitely saw the benefits straight away.”
Other sensors are available for air temperature and humidity but Gaven says he’s happy with what he has at present.
“It’s early days and word is slowly getting out.”
Another area where Adam has been able to be of help is with labour, which Gaven talked to him about on one of his first visits.
“It’s a rising cost and major companies have been able to put labour registration processes into their businesses,” he says.
“But they are expensive. I talked to Adam and within a few weeks he had something set up.”
Fresh West employs six workers with another two added through the busy summer period, and they now all use tablets to see tasks to be completed and those that still need to be carried out.
“They only cost about $75 for the tablets while another system I looked at wanted Ipads, which meant I went off the idea very quickly.”
Gaven inputs the relevant information, such as which rows to wind and prune in which of his greenhouses. Once finished, the workers will tick the task off, giving him accurate information as to how long the work on each row took.
“We're refining it all the time as we come up with ideas. And the staff talk to Adam as well about how to make it easier.”
“It’s painless for them and they enjoy doing it,” he says.
When it comes to picking and packing he gets a good idea of volumes coming off the plants from the number of bins from each row.
“That means I can be in touch with the markets and give them accurate numbers within a few crates of what we’ll be sending in.”
He also gets a report where all the information gathered is graphed up including production figures and crates packed.
Previously Gaven communicated with his workers via a handwritten job sheet, meaning he then needed to take that information and enter it into a spreadsheet.
“We’re refining it all the time as we come up with ideas. And the staff talk to Adam as well about how to make it easier.”
Gaven sees plenty of potential for further innovation, such as measuring fruit numbers and stages of growth to give accurate production data in advance.
“If you were trialing a new variety it would make it very easy to compare with an existing one,” he says.
“And you’d easily be able to compare one season with the last, or total production in different weeks through the season. The data’s all there being collected whatever way you want to use it. And it’s much better than a whole lot of numbers on a page.”
One of the sensors fitted by the roots of the capsicum plants.