Kernock Park Plants MD Bruce Harnett concludes Nuffield technology study

Kernock Park Plants' Bruce Harnett's Nuffield Scholarship report on 'Intensive Horticulture -man versus machine' concludes "technological advancement is just one of several critical, interrelated factors that horticulture should not ignore.

Bruce Harnett-KPP
Bruce Harnett-KPP

It finds that labour issues and efficiency are key drivers towards technological advancement in production processes, logistics and the finance required are principal barriers to investment in mechanisation and the advancement of technology will be rapid for horticulture over the coming years.

The report emphasised that:

* Understanding a business, its position, finances and costings is essential before making decisions to incorporate technology.
* The future is not necessarily "Man versus machine" but a suitable balance of "Man in harmony with machine".

Hartnett said: "The advancement in technology is just one of a host of interrelated factors which is bound to influence the activity and decisions we make within our businesses.

"My perception was that those who understand and anticipate the existence and implications for a factor such as this, will be more likely to survive and thrive.

"My intention, when embarking on my journey, was to be one of those who understood the reasoning and implications surrounding this key subject. I visited a diverse range of over 90 organisations in Japan, Israel, Holland, Belgium, Germany, USA and Canada.

"The choice of countries was based on the desire to witness a variety of different global markets and cultures whilst exploring production within and outside of my immediate, typically labour intensive, industry: the ornamental plant sector of horticulture.

"My aim, by means of interviews, surveys and general discussions was to gain an understanding for the reasons, advantages, disadvantages and barriers to implementation of technology versus more manual production methods. By technology I infer mechanisation, automation, robotics and information technology. I wanted to anticipate the opportunities and threats likely to shape our future that will emerge from the technological arena.

"I also endeavoured to try and understand the consequence of the actions and choices taken in production. Finally, I attempted to process the fountain of information collected and make some predictions and recommendations for my industry.

"In addition to all preconceptions I previously held regarding the reasoning for, or against, the decision to employ technology, I realised there was even more besides: the key overarching reasons being within the scope of labour and efficiency, of course. Restrictions to mechanisation were usually associated with finance, production limitations, perception of quality and cultural factors. I uncovered a whole host of opportunities and threats, such as breeding innovations and developments in producing plants within enclosed environments.

"Opportunities cited will allow some businesses to progress whilst others simply weather the storm. Although there is significant consolidation and increasing competition within my industry, I feel that there can be room for everyone who does sit up and take notice of their surroundings. Develop an appropriate business strategy and production system to suit whilst placing emphasis on marketing and customer focus.

"I completed my travels with little doubt in my mind that the tide of technological advancement will continue to surge. It will simply wash over us if we do not look to enhance its power. We shouldn’t view the prospects negatively, but be prepared to pounce on the opportunities it is certain to bring. Technology will reduce the reliance on labour in many sectors of horticulture. Often these are repetitive, low-skilled and sometimes strenuous tasks that few will relish in future. Technology is likely to create job opportunities faster than they are eliminated by its advance. Indeed, people and their skills will be more important than ever for businesses. Rather than man versus machine, it will be a case for harmonisation of man with machine."


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