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Managing Labour During the Christmas holiday break
How to keep on top of the work (statutory holidays)
Well it is that time of the year again when the big fat guy with the grey beard in the red suit, from the North Pole brings us our holiday cheer. For growers, in this part of the world, it is just past the longest day and if crops are growing and harvesting, it is an extremely busy time. Growth rates are at their peak, production is very high and insect pressure is a constant threat. With all of the statutory holidays, every grower is working out the best strategy to organise their staff to keep up with the naturally increasing workload. It is always a very tricky time of the year for all growers who employ staff. As a grower/owner I was always able to work on statutory days if I needed to, which I did as my staff were on holiday. I think growing up on a dairy farm, where there are no statutory holidays for cows who have to be milked each day, stood me in good stead for becoming a tomato grower.
This year Christmas falls on a Tuesday and Boxing Day on a Wednesday. Smack bang in the middle of the week. So how do companies organise their staff and workloads. Growers will most probably have to get their staff to work the weekend before and after Christmas and possibly the first weekend in January. Only an absolute bare minimum of staff will be expected to work on Christmas or Boxing Day. Some companies will need to get staff in on Boxing Day to pick. Production and packhouse staff will need to work weekends, which I am sure they will be asked to do. For all staff and management, the Christmas and New Year holiday season is a huge headache to organise. Plant maintenance work aside, the picking, packing and transporting of produce must be a huge challenge. Making sure the distribution and delivery of fresh product, to restock retailers, must be a logistical nuisance. With the extra pressure on growing and pack house operations there is the additional costs to be absorbed.
With all of the distraction of organising labour my main concern was losing focus on growing the plants correctly and the attention to detail needed without cutting corners. It can be very easy to compromise on certain plant maintenance work, but this will just come back to bite you in the New Year. I speak from experience. The lower price of greenhouse produce, at this time of the year, means it can be hard to stay motivated. If your crop balance is not correct now it could impact on both production and plant health in January and February when the full force of the hot summer weather hits. Fruit loading now will be very high so making sure you do not over load plants and you protect root health is a key focus for this period. If you have issues now it will just be a battle to maintain a balanced plant through the coming months. A weaker, less maintained plant will have a reduced resistant to insect pests.
The speed at which workers can carry out the plant maintenance and harvesting are key. A few tips for this Christmas period, and the rest of the summer, is to start work very early in the morning. As soon as it is light it is better to work in cooler conditions. I would also clip my tomato plants as this was faster than twisting. I preferred to do this job in the morning. To reduce broken heads, which is more likely to happen in the morning, clipping also made sense. Another very important reason for working on the tops of the plants in the morning was to avoid the stress inflicted on the plant by twisting or clipping after lunch during the warmest part of the day. Leaf removal was done after lunch when it was cooler and easier for the staff to work lower down on the plants. Picking was still done in the morning but a separate crew was used to carry out this task.
Good luck with the increased work load and do enjoy your public holidays if you are able to get a break.
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Article Written by Stefan Vogrincic, Consultant, Grower2Grower