Evaluation of quality assurance software for the vegetable industry
A practical checklist, funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia Ltd (HIA Ltd) formerly known as Horticulture Australia (HAL) has been developed to assist vegetable growers on the selection and purchase of tools to assist in managing their quality assurance (QA) systems, including traceability. Managing quality assurance systems is a time consuming and costly exercise for Australian vegetable growers. It is however, necessary for many vegetable growers, particularly those supplying into the fresh, retail and export markets. A common concern raised by industry is the overwhelming amount of paperwork and time that is required to prove compliance to one or more quality assurance (QA) systems essential to meet customer and/or market requirements. Many vegetable growers are moving away from traditional paper-based QA tools and turning to innovative technology such as Applications or ‘apps’ and options such as cloud-based and web-based platforms to reduce their QA operating costs and improve reporting processes. However, deciding on the right tool and whether it covers the functionality required by the individual business can be challenging. Research undertaken with vegetable growers reveals that there does not appear to be a one size fits all approach to purchasing and using QA tools. The capital cost of QA tools is dependent on the scale of the business, which is also likely to be impacted by the number of crops grown, and customer and market requirements for food safety and quality for specific crops. No recommendation is made on a specific QA tool. A necessary starting point when contemplating investment in QA tools is defining the business requirement and to differentiate between the functionality they ‘must have’, ‘nice to have’ and ‘don’t need’. As a result of this project, two tables have been developed to show the QA tools identified and the ease of use; and show the functionality that each tool provides. These tables can be used by vegetable growers to assist them consider the suitability of the QA tool for their individual use. As the project focus was on the evaluation of quality assurance software for the vegetable industry, tools described as predominantly focussing on farm management were excluded. The HIA Ltd funded Project VG13106 Evaluation of commercially available farm management software programs for the vegetable industry will focus on farm management software tools in more detail. QA systems provide a critical benefit of enabling vegetable growers to obtain market access for their product. If any vegetable grower is unable to sell their crop then the future business options can be challenging. As such the benefit of market access is critical and therefore QA systems and/or tool implementation are an imperative requirement. However, there are a significant range of other benefits that can be achieved by the implementation of QA tools such as improved farm performance (such as yield and cost saving), traceability and improved risk management. These benefits are likely to bring tangible additional revenue, cost control and potential profit for those vegetable growers able to select the tools suited to their needs and leverage from these advantages.