AHDB has named the two English horticulture businesses which will become the UK’s first Strategic SmartHort Centres.

Lincolnshire based propagators, Volmary Ltd., and Herefordshire fruit growers, Haygrove Ltd., will host the centres for the next 12 months.

The SmartHort programme aims to help growers address the challenges around labour and its rising cost.

Growers who engage with the programme are expected to see labour and productivity improvements between 25 and 40%.

Consultancy firm Fedden USP will lead training to drive business improvement, while also sharing insight on practical management and methods of implementing LEAN.

Lean is a business management strategy designed to maximise efficiencies. There are six basic principles:

  • Focus on the customer;
  • Understand and identify how work gets done;
  • Manage, improve and smooth out the process flow;
  • Identify the non-added value elements and waste;
  • Manage by using fact and data, and reduce variances;
  • Attain continuous improvement.

Grace Emeny, senior knowledge exchange manager at AHDB said: “We’re really excited to see how the first of our Strategic SmartHort Centres develop – both Haygrove and Volmary are going to be brilliant ambassadors for the programme of work.

We’re looking forward to seeing the impact of their projects on production efficiency and labour management, and sharing that insight with the rest of industry.

The hosts will help demonstrate how labour efficiency tools and techniques can be used on a daily basis.

A number of events will be held throughout the period to focus on key areas of the business. These workshops will cover:

  • Process mapping and waste identification;
  • Practical problem solving using a technique called 'Plan, Do, Check, Act';
  • How to encourage continuous improvement across the whole organisation;
  • Visual management boards and metrics to check improvements have worked.

Neil Fedden from Fedden USP explained: “This is a unique opportunity to take part in a ‘live’ case study for the application of LEAN tools and techniques within the successful businesses.

"The aim of the programme is a practical demonstration of how LEAN can be applied to improve productivity and sustain the improvements.”

Part of the AHDB Farm Excellence network, each host site will have workshops where they will be encouraged to have an open and honest discussion around business change. The workshops are designed for all horticultural sectors and will not focus on specific crop issues.

Francis Mizuro, technical director of Volmary Ltd. said: "We’re very excited to bring the investigative trial work to our site and to be a key part of the development of systems and technologies that will help both the industry as a whole and our own business.

We feel by investing some of our time and resources to this programme, we will help progress an industry that has lacked investment, focus and people.

Businesses who attend the Strategic SmartHort Centre events will be given the opportunity to attend additional Apprenticeship Levy funded training on LEAN / Business Improvement and gain a Level 2 nationally-recognised qualification.

A third Strategic Smarthort Centre will be announced later this year.