When I start thinking of technology in the greenhouse, I immediately think of all the wonderful robots we have. Automation exists in the form of environmental controls, booms, plug fixers, transplanters, etc. Although all of these help in production, the technology that helps us the most is our custom-written Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.
There are several ERP systems available on the market, but a custom written system gives you exactly what you need instead of what you can adapt to. Anyone working with ERP systems, especially those originally written for other industries, knows the wish list of changes can stretch for many pages. We found it much more beneficial to build a highly educated IT department inclusive of programmers and system administrators.
ERP software integrates all aspects of an operation, including development, manufacturing, sales and marketing. It allows you to track your product from initial ordering through production, to sales and shipping to the customer. Having all of these aspects in one place greatly improves the communication within an organization. It also adds checks and balances at all stages to make sure everything is produced and tracked accurately.
Recipes Make Life Easier
Every item that is produced has its own recipe within the system. This recipe includes all the materials required to produce the item and the actual recipe for growing the product, as well as information on the customer it will be going to. Within these recipes, you can program any aspect of production, from growing environments, to chemical applications to labor.
Every item produced has its own unique lot. By having these unique lots, you can track every product through its life cycle. All of the lots are managed through the system for their location. This allows us to know where any item is at any time.
Since starting to use our ERP system, inventory has gone from a managerial nightmare to a quick printout that is extremely accurate. All of the components that go into producing the plants are also managed through the system. Since every recipe designates the items that go into a product, maintaining inventory of materials is very accurate. You are able to order what you need and have it arrive just before you need it. By having only what you need when you need it, you avoid tying dollars up in inventory for long periods of time. You can also avoid shortages at time of sowing, sticking or transplanting.
ERP Systems Track Costs
An ERP system allows you to track any information back to your specific lot. As growers, one of the aspects we like most is being able to marry all of our spray applications directly back to the lots. We can easily look up what has been done to a specific crop. It also allows you to see how much money has been spent per crop on chemicals, down to the exact products applied.
Another aspect of tracking that helps tremendously is labor tracking. We are building all of our labor aspects in production into the recipes. We can go back and see what labor was spent on each crop — the same as we do with chemical applications. It allows us to be much better at predicting our future labor costs, as well as to see where productivity is improving or declining. We have even built our piecework into the system to track individual performance to the lot level.
Although I do love all of the other equipment that we have to improve our productivity, the ERP system is by far my favorite. Technology generally helps you in only one aspect of your production, whereas an ERP system will help you with all aspects of your business. With labor costs increasing, maximizing all aspects of your company is mandatory in order to stay in business. There are many ways to use technology to help you achieve this, but don’t forget the most important area — your systems management! GG