Fruit Tracker: an Innovative Record-keeping Program
Fruit Tracker came to life with funding from the Agricultural Management Institute (AMI) and the hard work of a development team. Rather than view traceability as a challenge, the East-Central Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers recognized it as an opportunity to give their members a marketing leg up and formed a strategic alliance to develop the innovative record-keeping system.
Tool generates a business advantage
Record keeping is by no means a new practice, but thanks to technology it can be a powerful management tool to help maximize marketing opportunities and lead to more informed farm business decisions.
Cathy McKay is taking full advantage of record keeping for her Port Perry farm. She uses Fruit Tracker – a new electronic program – to manage her crop of 11,000 apple trees. On a simple level, the record-keeping system helps track her farm’s production practices, but it’s the reports it generates that make it most valuable.
“You can have everything flow into a final report for the buyer,” says Cathy who operates Nature’s Bounty pick-your-own and wholesale business along with her husband Marvin Stevenson. “The buyer can see that a specific apple or berry had certain things done to it along the way – such as fertilizing and spraying – and it can be tracked right to harvest.”
Traceability key to market access
This type of information is increasingly vital in today’s marketplace where consumers and retail buyers alike have heightened concerns about food safety. The intent is that the traceability information generated by Fruit Tracker will better arm Cathy and other apple and berry growers to meet domestic and international buyers’ requirements for food safety.
Making decisions easier for growers and buyers
She says Fruit Tracker was not produced by making assumptions about what growers would use and what buyers would want. They sought input from a number of growers as well as retail giants Loblaws and Sobeys. The result is a user-friendly record-keeping system for growers capable of capturing information specifically requested by buyers.
Cathy commends the software programmer at Dragonfly in Kingston, Ontario for spending time to understand how the program would actually be used on-farm. For instance, Fruit Tracker is pre-loaded with information on a full range of crop protection products, saving users the time to look up important details such as harvest intervals. It is also easily customized for individual farms.
The fact it was designed with a priority for user-friendliness helps address a perception that record keeping is a time-consuming task. It may temporarily take away from field work, but it’s a management tool that could save growers time in the field in future and add to their bottom line. For example, using the information to analyze management strategies and improve integrated pest management (IPM) practices can lead to on-farm efficiencies.
How can your farm benefit from a dynamic record-keeping program?
To date Fruit Tracker has been introduced at several grower meetings, and two computer workshops have been held to orient growers to the tool. “We were amazed at the uptake – people really liked it and stayed for hours,” says Cathy.
The software, which won a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence in 2007, was originally designed for apple and berry growers of east-central Ontario, but it is available to anyone. “We are hoping to have more widespread use,” says Cathy. “Although the East-Central Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers own it, we are willing to share it for a nominal price.” For more information or to order a copy of Fruit Tracker, contact Cathy at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is available in English and French.
Regardless of whether you use a system like Cathy’s or something completely different to track your production practices, one thing is for certain – good records will lead to better decisions and hopefully higher returns for your farm business.
"We use an innovative record-keeping program to keep track of our farm’s production practices. It’s increasingly important to keep good records in a format that buyers can use. An electronic traceability system will help us meet our buyers’ food safety requirements and give us a marketing advantage.”
~Cathy McKay, apple grower, Port Perry, ON