The SmartHort campaign is designed to find solutions for the lack of affordable, quality labour available for UK horticulture, by helping growers improve their labour management practices and identifying new technologies.
UK horticultural businesses have been experiencing up to 30% shortfalls in the staff they need to perform critical tasks, from planting to harvesting. Despite the majority of growers adopting some level of automation or robotics in their business, UK horticulture is complex, with diverse production systems, and many processes still rely heavily on manual labour.
Currently around 70 per cent of the UK’s horticultural seasonal workforce come from overseas, and only one in every thousand comes from the UK. A combination of factors, from the Brexit vote to improving home economies, has meant recruiting and retaining seasonal labour has become increasingly difficult.
Without a solution to the shortfall, many crops will simply rot in the field.
The SmartHort campaign has two clear strands: to look at improving management practices for the existing workforce and to identify new technologies and innovation, such as robotics and automation, which could play a role in providing longer term solutions.
Technology, robotics and automation
Over 84 per cent of horticultural growers plan to invest in automation or robotics to help off-set labour challenges, according to a survey [hyperlink] conducted by AHDB in 2017.
SmartHort is identifying and assessing the value of different kinds of smart technology available, both in the UK and overseas. This could be to directly off-set labour with automating repetitive tasks, or to bring big data to the production system to help improve productivity by off-setting waste or reducing yield loss.
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Labour management and skills
The principles of introducing management techniques such as Lean, Champion and Continuous Improvement, can make a difference to businesses of all shapes and sizes to improve labour efficiency. They can apply throughout the production system from picking to packing and play an important role in helping to recruit, retain and motivate staff.
At a time of labour shortages, investment in staff and supervisors and training is critical. Our Skills Programme [hyperlink to the skills page] includes courses and workshops designed to help you develop and retain your current staff, and improve recruitment.
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