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.

NZ Grower - - COVERED CROPS - By Glenys Chris­tian

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.

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