South African blueberry farm using technology to boost labour productivity

Blueberries grown at Strathbreede's high-spec farm.

Blueberries grown at Strathbreede’s high-spec farm.

Partner Content: Farm Costing Solutions

In December 2019, agricultural investment firm Primocane Capital commenced with phase one of the development of Strathbreede Berries, with the aim to convert an existing pear and plum estate – situated close to Wolseley, South Africa – into a 80-hectare high-spec blueberry farm. Less than two years later, the farm already grows 50 hectares of blueberries in pots under shade netting over steel tunnels. Over 50km of irrigation main lines have been laid, which is linked to a new state-of-the-art pump house and fertigation system. All produce is exported to Europe and the Far East.

Blueberry farming is labour intensive; during peak season Strathbreede employs 550 workers, a number which will increase to 950 during the second phase of the project. To manage its labour-related expenses, Strathbreede uses the Farm Costing Solutions (FCS) system that logs and records information related to time and attendance, piece work and job costing.

Workers at Strathbreede’s blueberry farm.

Each employee is issued a ‘tag’ that is swiped against a ‘reader’ device when they arrive in the morning and leave in the afternoon. This accurately records time and attendance information.

When it comes to piece work, FCS keeps track of the work performed by seasonal workers. For instance, during harvest time the fruit that each worker has picked is weighed and recorded in the system. Using FCS, Strathbreede has also developed an incentive structure to improve the productivity of its seasonal workers. Those that harvest more than the benchmark are paid a higher amount per kilogramme, while underperforming workers are identified for retraining. Through GPRS technology, the piece work data captured by Strathbreede is instantly sent to a central computer from where managers can monitor productivity in real time. “The productivity gains due to this incentive programme alone covers the cost of the entire FCS system,” says Ted Stanford, CEO of Primocane.

Employee earnings are automatically calculated from the captured data or manually inserted as required. FCS also integrates with popular payroll platforms, including its own Crest Payroll.

Strathbreede previously used another farm cost management software solution but traded it for FCS due to its ease of use and the robustness of the product. “What I’ve found with all these other solutions is that you pay for unnecessary bells and whistles that your staff never uses. I’m really impressed with FCS because of the simplicity of their product,” Stanford explains.

A worker at one of FCS’s other clients swiping his ‘tag’ against a ‘reader’.

He is upbeat about FCS’s after-market service and the continuing support it provides. “The team is always very transparent in the event of any issues; they are readily available on the phone, TeamViewer and regularly come to visit us on the farm.”

Because of its innovative products and superior customer service, FCS has attracted some of South Africa’s top agricultural enterprises as clients: Dutoit Group, De Keur, Fruitways (Melsetter), Namibian Grape Company and Capespan. The company has also expanded its footprint to Australia, Namibia and Zimbabwe. From its head office in Cape Town, FCS serves farmers across Africa.

Contact details

For more information about how your business can benefit from FCS, contact Marilyn at: landline: +27 21 903 0612 ; mobile phone: +27 72 896 6801 or email: [email protected]

Farm Costing Solutions logo