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Case Study: Mitchell McNab & Steve Booth

Data collection underpins Ardmona orchardist success

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Juggling a myriad of tasks as the manager of a large-scale orchard, fifth generation Ardmona horticulturalist Mitchell McNab takes a meticulous approach to research, planning and preparation - underpinned by real-time data collection.

His family’s H.V. McNab & Son business has had a strong presence in the Goulburn Valley region of Victoria, on some of Australia’s most productive soils, for 110 years.

Mr McNab, who has been running the group’s 70 hectare orchard since 2009, attributes its enduring longevity to analysis and adoption of latest technology across all facets of the operation.

“From record-keeping on-the-go, to orchard management, picking, packing and transport, new innovations drive our productivity gains and ensure we are producing the highest quality apples, pears, peaches and plums that we can,” he said.

With this wide-ranging spread of enterprises and managing many casual staff at peak periods, Mr McNab said accurate tracking and monitoring of tasks from the field to the packing shed, during transport and right through to market is pivotal.

“I can be pruning, harvesting, packing, planning or dealing with human resource issues on any one day,” he said.

“So I need to know what my work force is doing in the orchard and when the fruit leaves the trees so I can maintain a handle on agronomy practices and costs.

“Good record keeping is essential in this business of growing and supplying top quality produce so consumers have a good eating experience and repeat-buy our fruit.”

To achieve this and improve business efficiencies, the McNab’s have introduced the Agworld platform to capture, store, analyse and share their production and business data with advisers and their workforce.

It is particularly useful for real-time recording and monitoring of tasks and costs associated with integrated pest management (IPM), disease control and other agronomic practices in the orchard.

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“Our workers now access a job description and information they need for the day through the app on their smart phone, iPad or laptop and can carry out the job as quickly and efficiently as possible."

Mitchell McNab

Mr McNab said the app-based Agworld platform allows them to track these activities, analyse enterprise operations and trends over time and undertake long-term strategic planning.

“Before we used Agworld, most of our record keeping was done manually,” he said.

“This was very time consuming, not very accurate and made it difficult to keep track of costs on-the-go."

“Our workers now access a job description and information they need for the day through the app on their smart phone, iPad or laptop and can carry out the job as quickly and efficiently as possible."

“They log their activity in the system when they are finished and we assign the associated costs."

“This enables better, timely and informed decision-making and has increased efficiencies by allowing us to manage any problems as they occur, while controlling and containing costs during the season for each orchard block to boost overall business profits.”

He said capturing costs of production and being able to quickly undertake budget reviews as the season unfolds were major benefits of the platform.

“Australia is one of the highest cost producers of fruit in the world,” he said.

“To compete on the global stage, we need to thoroughly understand our cost structures and monitor these as much as possible.

“Using Agworld, we now capture all information that influences our costs of production to make the right decisions to minimise spending and optimise profitability.”

The McNab family’s local IPM adviser Steve Booth, of GV Environmental Monitoring Services, specialises in creating pest control programs based on data collected from monitoring pests in the orchard.

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“The Agworld app is the vital conduit in the process of being accurate, cutting out cumbersome paperwork and improving productivity for all of us.”

Steve Booth

“From the time I step on to the orchard to when I leave, I now record - straight into the Agworld platform - any pest and spraying activity in terms of products used, location and rates,” Mr Booth said.

“I then base my follow-up advice on this technical data.

“The Agworld app is the vital conduit in the process of being accurate, cutting out cumbersome paperwork and improving productivity for all of us.”

Mr Booth said IPM programs had been implemented by Ardmona orchardists for many years, but came at a significant cost as they grappled with a range of pests during the growing season.

“They need to be aware of IPM costs right through the season and not get caught by surprise at their total spend after they have harvested the crop,” he said.

“Using the Agworld platform during the past two years has allowed me to quickly and easily provide growers with weekly activity updates, cost information and projections of total spend.”

Mr McNab said, like in most horticultural businesses, a big pinch point in his system was the need to have good auditing systems to demonstrate the enterprise was operating to particular standards.

“Now that we are using Agworld to maintain better records, we can show we are complying with regulations through the auditing process without generating a lot of extra work for ourselves in collating that information,” he said.

“It is already stored in the system and is at-hand whenever we need it.”