The first thing I would say about automation is start somewhere. Even if you go with any type of sprinkler or overhead irrigation system that is stationary and not a boom system, start somewhere. Get your feet wet. Get comfortable with the fact that you are starting to rely more on machines and not people. One of the biggest hurdles we have is with small and medium size growers. They will say, “It’s going to make my growers lazy.” My response to that is, “At the end of the day, that’s a management problem. That’s not an equipment problem.”
What you need to worry about when you get new machinery is making sure everyone understands why you are buying machinery. If the boom systems or any automated overhead irrigation systems are making your growers lazy, that’s not because of the grower. That’s because the grower is worried about his job.
I had an instance where a guy said that same thing. I said it was a management issue, not because of the machine. People need to be sold on the idea of equipment. When you’re going to install these machines, you need to sit your team down and say, “Okay, guys, there are six of you now. This machine is not going to replace any of the good people I have, but it is going to help me weed out the bad. This machine can be responsible for making you better at your job and help you climb the ladder in this business. Those of you who are not willing to work with the machines and are not willing to step up to the next rung of the ladder, this machine will help me weed you out.”
It was like a light went on for the guy. He said, “You’re right. Now I need to focus in more with these people and what it can do for them and how it can increase their total output in the business. It can help them climb the ladder, and I can stop worrying about how it is going to make them care less about their job.”
A term we use in the industry is “aisle growers” — people who walk by and make decisions by aisle, not by walking down the bays and seeing all the plants. Operators are either worried about people being lazy or caring less. Instead of worrying about every single plant in there, they are going to worry about whether or not they can get all the booms started and go home early. That is not an issue of embracing the technology; it’s how the technology is embraced within the company. There has to be a heartfelt mindset that everyone there wants what is best for the company, and this machine is going to help do that, versus people having the mindset of, “This machine is just going to replace me, so I am just going to ride the wave until it crashes.”
Automation is going to give growers consistency. The first thing people think of is consistency in their growing, and that is a huge advantage, but it is going to give them consistency across the board. Meaning, it is going to allow them to plan for the machine. The machine never calls in sick. It always comes in on time. As long as there is good preventative maintenance, it is always going to be there when you ask it to be. Instead of trying to plan your holidays or off time around when people can cover the bases, as long as you teach them to use the machinery or automation correctly, that automation can allow for a more calm, relaxed environment that people enjoy working in.
Every person in a company has a job title they hold onto, and they are going to do whatever it takes to maintain that title, even if it means undermining the company in order to kick someone else out that might try to get into their shoes. To us, the machinery is not only about consistency of quality but a consistency in quality of life. In the industry we are in, we produce a very demanding product. It doesn’t sleep. It doesn’t wait for you to make decisions. Neither do the pests or diseases that are constantly after the plants. We try to make sure people understand that and promote the idea it’s not just about the quality of product — it is about the quality of life you gain.