Peter Thomson of Thomas Thomson

Peter Thomson

A Scottish berry grower will work with AHDB to highlight how horticultural growers can increase efficiency and reduce their reliance on labour.

Blairgowrie-based grower Thomas Thomson has been named as AHDB’s third Strategic SmartHort Centre, and over the next 12 months the producer will host three workshops, acting as live case study for productivity improvements.

Grace Emeny, senior knowledge exchange manager at AHDB, said: “We know the decreasing availability of labour is a big concern for many growers which is why we are running the SmartHort initiative, a key strand of which is improving labour efficiency, which is something all three of our SmartHort Centres will be focusing on.

“Crucially they will be sharing that insight with other local growers and we’re grateful for the honesty and openness they will be bringing to these events.”

Although the company is a soft fruit grower, the workshops Thomas Thomson will host will help demonstrate how labour efficiency tools and techniques can be used by any horticultural business, regardless of the crops they grow.

It’s also not just the host who will reap the rewards; everyone who attends all three workshops should see their labour and productivity improve by 25-40 per cent, according to the AHDB.

Neil Fedden, the productivity consultant that will work with Thomas Thomson and the two other SmartHort Centres, explained: “We will take the host centre, as well as the workshop attendees, through the LEAN process, which is really about identifying and then cutting out or reducing those activities that don’t add value to the business. When you reduce waste and use your resources more efficiently you can add significant value to the business.

“Everyone who comes to the Strategic SmartHort Centre will develop an action plan which they can implement on their own businesses, and as we go through the year everyone will be able to share what changes they have made, and how they have made a difference to their business.”

Peter Thomson, chief executive of Thomas Thomson, which mainly grows blueberries and cherries, and has been in the soft fruit business since the 19th century, has long prioritised labour efficiency.

He said: “Labour really is a big issue, both the cost of it and the availability. While robotics do offer some potential in the future, it’s really a long way off, so we’re keen to see what new ideas this process throws up, and we’re committed to making real changes and being able to report back on genuine savings at the end of the day.

“We want to be part of the solution, as that’s what the industry should be shouting about, the solutions, rather than the problems.”

The first meeting of the Scottish Strategic SmartHort Centre will take place over two days on 6 and 7 August. Anyone interested in attending should contact Grace Enemy