Update from our Bay of Plenty Branch
This month we bring you some thoughts and reflections from Grace Diggelmann, H&S and Quality Coordinator of our Bay of Plenty site near Tauranga. Hill Laboratories BoP is a dedicated site set up in late 2020 for maturity testing of kiwifruit, as well as management of a large team of kiwifruit sample collectors who collect fruit for both export residue testing requirements and the maturity testing. As all of our horticulture customers will understand, finding large numbers of seasonal workers is a challenge - which is made even harder in a pandemic.
Words that spring to mind when reminiscing about the second season of operations for the Bay of Plenty laboratory, are words like 'RAT', and “where are we going to find all of these staff?!”. It’s a tale that is not yet as old as time, but one that was ever pervasive and provided some key challenges for our Bay of Plenty team. However, despite the challenges in labour supply, and the turbulent terrain of COVID-19 throughout New Zealand, all test-kiwifruit made it off the vines, and our team of ~300 were able to help make that happen.
It’s near impossible to estimate the sample flows from year to year, and this year was true to form, with a deliberately “front-loaded” season in attempt to combat the labour shortage. This meant there was a lot of work to be completed in February and March, and left a somewhat subdued April and May to follow. In numbers, this meant that by the end of March this year, we had processed 47% of all samples we would process in the season, as compared with 2021 at the same time we had only processed 33% of the samples.
Our team was able to be adaptive and flexible as the season offered up something new to navigate with each turn. One of the effects of a front loaded season meant that we had less time to onboard and train new staff to be at the required level of competency. The effect of this on the supervisory staff then compounds, and makes for some high-stress days, and short deadlines - both of which our team handled with fluidity.
There have been some notable developments in the IT space for our operation, enabling parts of the sampling and testing to be conducted more efficiently. Enhancements in the way samples are collected, as well as how testing and training is conducted and documented has made for improvements in the quality of work produced, the health and safety of our staff, and the productivity of our operation. Moving into our third season in 2023, we are looking to develop and mature these further so that our processes can become less manual, and more intuitive, automatic, and accurate.
Although this season had most of the samples front loaded into March and April, it certainly had a long tail, with our last on-orchard sample being collected on the 21st of June - although it felt as though the season had looked to come to a close long before! For our BoP team, May and June were months largely dedicated to ensuring the back end of the season was smooth and loose ends were tied up. It has tended to be the trend that harvest creeps earlier each season for a range of reasons - one being climate change - however it remains to be seen if the same dramatic March will come to visit us again next year, or if the distribution of samples will again change.
We often remark on the BoP operation that was able to be established in such a short time frame. It is no mean feat that the energy, hard work, and determination that was shown in setting up this operation has continued on through the now two seasons of operation - so to all of those involved, thank you. We have a great foundation to continue building on for years to come; a foundation that could only have been achieved with a great team, and one of those I am very proud to say we have.