HTA seminar offers labour-saving techniques and advice

Growers were advised on lean production techniques - and shown novel machinery that could be used to solve the current labour shortage in the UK - at an HTA seminar this week.

New Zealand asparagus grower Mike Schwarz gave a "virtual" presentation on his use of technology developed for space shuttles to harvest his crops at the HTA Tree & Hedging Group event.

HTA Tree & Hedging Group chairman Jamie Dewhurst said: "Labour is a resource that is becoming more and more difficult to source. Can the work be done by machines instead? (Schwarz) took advantage of new technology and his approach encourages growers to open their minds and use lateral thinking."

ADAS representative Will George encouraged growers to make their businesses more efficient by reducing the amount of labour time spent on non-production tasks.

He said: "A study in 2002 showed that workers spend 55 per cent of their time on production tasks, with around 11 per cent on tidying and 18 per cent on administration - both of which could probably be reduced."

He also recommended that growers be careful of overproduction: "Seven to 10 per cent of plants produced are wasted. Ninety per cent of those are not sold and 10 per cent die or are considered poor-grade."

He added that surveys carried out by the Nursery Business Improvement Scheme and the HTA showed that growers in the Tree & Hedging Group were paying higher wages than average, which was not necessary.

Other talks at the "People, Production & Profit" seminar, held at Warwick HRI, included: an update from HOPS Labour Solutions; a demo of harvesting with machinery by Edward Thompson of Pixley Berries; insights into succession planning in family businesses by Sian Bushell; an update on research and development projects from the HDC; and Jon Adlam's advice on legislation.

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