Home > News

Looking to Relocate?

More info

Business Parks

More info

High Performing Organic Grower

Article Index
Kate de Lautour

We need to be more productive as a wider community in order to grow our economy, says Scott Lawson from Lawson’s Organic Farms.  The market-driven business, owned and operated by Lawson and Vicki Meech, is well-known with the True Earth branded carrots, onions, pumpkins and blueberries in demand throughout the country, as well as baleage and hay for dairy support.

Scott believes organics will continue to be the fastest growing part of the food sector with GMO Free (Genetically Modified Organism) coming a close second.

 “There is a very discerning growing consumer demand for high quality top end food, and certified organics fits into that, like a glove. New Zealand has the ability to feed 24 million people around the world and we can either choose to compete with large commodity producers like Brazil or Canada, or we can choose high value, niche products.

“GMO Free food is becoming more and more important to consumers – even the Chinese army have banned all GMO grains and oil for their supply stations.”

Having been certified organic for 20 years, True Earth have robust quality management and health and safety systems, however Scott and Vicki maintain that continuous improvement, incorporating staff development, is vital for an energised business, particularly as costs continue to rise.

 Increasing costs across labour and compliance, a shortage of good staff and tighter margins have highlighted the need for improved productivity from contracted staff and permanent staff.

Recognising the cost savings that could be made from lifting productivity, Scott and Vicki jumped at the chance to enter the High Performance Work initiative, offered by Business Hawke’s Bay.

This has meant regular visits from business improvement specialist Trevor Hall from Smarter Better Faster, including practical hands-on training sessions with the staff at all levels and reviews of the packhouse operations and systems.

The cropping industry has extensive variables and having Trevor on-board with his experience in cropping and harvesting, both domestically and in the US, has been beneficial in helping to highlight ‘no-cost’ benefits.

“We’ve seen real benefits because we are getting examples from Trevor’s experience with other businesses,” Scott says.

“He has moved from staff training into making improvements on the the practical side of planting, growing, harvesting and the various steps getting into market.”

Vicki handles the HR side of the business; it’s a challenging job with large numbers of seasonal staff required for the labour intensive cropping and harvesting and for many of the staff, English is a second language.

“The staff have been pushed outside their comfort zone and the suggestions are so much more effective coming from Trevor than us. It gives the staff a fresh face on the scene, and for the permanent staff, they can put aside what has been done in the past and it gives them the chance to make suggestions they might not otherwise feel they could make.”

With so many casual staff, keeping systems up to date is vital for efficient production.

 “Systems help us solve problems and because we have a lot of casual staff, it’s up to us to have really good systems in place so the permanent staff can convey these to the casuals,” Scott says.

“We’ve had a lot of systems in place in the past and now the time spent with Trevor has put the icing on the cake.”

Conveying the message to all staff around reaching targets is becoming an integral part of improving productivity and Trevor has introduced ideas to help make the production line more efficient including visual markers showing that production is in the red or in the black – a much easier concept for those who don’t speak English so well.

Already the intervention benefits are paying off, particularly around cost savings per kilo, however it will be another financial period before the overall financial rewards will be seen.

“Scott and Vicki are good example of great leaders and treat all their staff like family,” Trevor says.

The current area of HPW focus is simplifying the data collection and management process. The idea is, the more staff who understand the numbers, the more they can contribute to improving efficiencies within the business.

“This is one of the vital keys to unlocking and building sustainable continuous improvement,” he says.

As Scott and Vicki work hard to build resilience in the business, Scott says this should be a message for the wider community, including Hawkes Bay’s economic development.

“If we all increase productivity we can start to build depth in our local businesses. The cost of a programme like High Performance Work is far greatly outweighed by the benefits.”