Labour study offers key lessons for growers

New survey reveals labour costs could be better managed, leading to significant savings.

Findings of a ground-breaking study of employment patterns in commercial horticulture reveal scope to improve business pro-cesses, industry figures say. The Horticultural Development Council (HDC) commissioned the employment study, with NFU support, to help it target research and advice to its members. The HDC and industry leaders believe its findings about labour, which represents the highest input cost for growers, show how it could be managed better. Labour costs for growers account for 40 per cent of their overall operating costs, with hardy nursery stock growers bearing the brunt. They employ 26 per cent of regular workers and 11 per cent of casual workers across the board. A similar number of ornamental protected crop producers account for nine per cent of regular workers and six per cent of casual workers. The employment survey, carried out by independent consultancy GBC, also found that members employ more than 30,000 staff and regular workers and account for a further 20,000 working days undertaken by casuals. Boningale Nurseries managing director Tim Edwards said: “You could simply read the report as a report, but I think it should be used to make changes. We can learn important lessons from across the sector from this.” He suggested hardy nursery stock growers should take notice of the other sectors’ big use of seasonal and casual workers. He added: “[Protected crop growers’] labour costs are much less and this is borne out in the report.” An HDC representative said: “The HDC is increasingly being asked to look at labour as a high priority topic within its research strategies. “Clearly as costs increase, so growers must get more and more efficient in their business processes in order to remain competitive.” The biggest 20 per cent of businesses, with more than £300,000 turnover, employ 72 per cent of the 4,000 supervisors in the industry. They also employ 69 per cent of the 27,000 regular workers. Growers spend on average 12 per cent of their time marketing and selling. The survey was based on 600 replies, representing 22 per cent of the HDC’s 2,750 members.

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