AHDB is committed to helping horticulture to get the best and most out of the industry's workforce and operational management process, which is why we have launched SmartHort.
Human labour accounts for between 30% and 70% of total variable production costs. The National Living Wage is driving labour costs up substantially at a time when margins are under strong downward pressure from retailers. Brexit may also alter the future availability of workers.
SmartHort aims to help the industry increase productivity and address the challenge of access to affordable labour through; improving management practices; supporting skills development; identifying new technologies.
Steve Tones, horticulture strategy director at AHDB, said: “Addressing the increasing cost and decreasing availability of labour is one of the top three priorities of our strategy, and a key issue for most growers.”
In the longer-term, automation and robotics may offer some hope to offset these pressures. A survey has been conducted by AHDB to establish the current level of use of automation and robotics in horticulture and to identify where future investment in technologies could be made to help address concerns about labour availability and costs.
SmartHort aims to help accelerate the uptake of new smart technologies that will address the industry's labour needs.
Short-term solutions may be found through changes to management practices, such as the introduction of Lean, Champion and Continuous Improvement. Investing in the skill-set of the workforce through training and apprenticeship schemes could also help to increase productivity and improve staff retention and recrutment.
Workshops, training courses and publications will be provided as part of the SmartHort campaign.