Recently, members of Hectre’s New Zealand team took a trip to the picturesque Nelson-Motueka area, known as the fruit garden of New Zealand, to spend three days visiting orchards, touring packhouses, and connecting with our customers. The Hectre team, many of whom are involved in developing software solutions for our customers, eagerly embraced the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of our customers’ daily challenges.
Hectre Customer Success Manager Tiia Toivola gives us the inside scoop:
The adventure began with a visit to Wairepo Orchards, where we met with supervisor James and manager Mark Carrington. James and Mark explained their integral role of supervising people and QC’ing bins: “If the supervisor nails their job in people management, we’ll have high-quality fruit in the bins, and everybody will be happy.”
While we listened to James and Mark, it was amazing how within the blink of an eye, Pepe, one of the pickers, filled his bag with apples. Later, when it was our turn to pick apples, we quickly learned that maintaining a solid picking performance throughout the long workday was definitely more challenging than Pepe made it seem!
Seeing what seemed like perfectly good apples to the untrained eye on the orchard floor surprised Hectre Senior Backend Engineer Lorena Racic, who took it upon herself to begin “reducing fruit waste” one apple at a time. Obviously enjoying the delicious apples, others soon joined her.
Next, we visited Golden Bay Fruit, a cooperative packing facility for about ten growers. Their Packhouse Operations Manager, John Bromley, gave us a tour of the impressive automated packing lines, where we marvelled at the efficiency of the process and gained insight into the scale of their operations. Seeing a packing line up close for the first time, Senior Engineer Waldo Theron, was intrigued. How does the cup know to drop that particular fruit at that specific time so it enters the right packing line? One of life’s great mysteries! (It’s tech Waldo!)
Our final stop of the day was Moana Orchard, where we met with owners Oliver and Saskia Rowling. Oliver entertained us with witty grower jokes and insightful conversations about the realities of being a grower. The past few years have been tough for growers in the region with Covid-19, labor shortages, and weather events, resulting in disappointing returns for their fruit. Despite these challenges, Oliver and Saskia’s persistence and commitment were evident, deepening our appreciation for the obstacles our growers face.
Highlights of the following day, include visiting McLean’s Orchard and Packhouse, Heywood Orchards, Fairfield Orchards, and Hoddy’s Fruit Company. Meeting up with Fleming Jensen (pictured right with the team), Recruitment & Compliance Coordinator from Heywood Orchards, was a great opportunity for our engineers to meet the man who often provides them with helpful feedback around new features he would like to see added to the Hectre app.
Seeing such a diverse range of operations and the dedication of each grower and packhouse team was inspiring for these city slickers, reinforcing our commitment to continue developing innovative and effective solutions tailored to the unique challenges that apple growers and packers face.
Day three, and it was time to strap on our picking bags – and put on our raincoats – and do some real work! Apple picking in the rain wasn’t quite the get-back-to-nature, Disney cartoon image of singing birds and whistling workers that some of us had imagined, but we made the best of it and were better for the experience.
QCing our efforts, Aaron and Donald from Birdhurst Orchards pulled no punches – which is just the way we like it! – pointing out how too much enthusiasm and not enough care results in what was good fruit having to be left on the ground and the lower market price for the damaged fruit only adding to the considerable financial pressure growers are already under.
Sadly – or perhaps more truthfully, with a sigh of relief – as the rain became heavier, we had to cut our apple-picking experience short. We retreated inside for a hot drink before meeting up with Sacha and Matt from Wairepo Orchards for a chat.
We’re incredibly grateful for the warm hospitality and valuable insights shared during our visit. Despite “sunny Nelson” not quite living up to its name, the trip was an undeniable success, leaving those who missed out eager for the next opportunity to get first-hand experience and immerse themselves even further into the world of apple growing and packing.