Award-winning 'Ingenious' IT initiative at NatureFresh

January 31, 2017
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Jan. 31, 2017, Leamington, Ont. – As technology seems to evolve at the speed of sound, NatureFresh Farms continues to be at the forefront of the greenhouse vegetable industry by applying cutting edge technologies to it’s operations.

In doing so, the company was recently named the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) Ingenious Award Winner for Small/Medium Private (Non-ICT) Category for 2016.

“NatureFresh Farms is facing tough competition from other countries with much lower costs and much like the rest of the industry, tighter regulations for food safety & increase requirements for food quality,” said Ronan McGrath, principal, Ronan McGrath & Associates, selection committee member and past president, ITAC.

A COMPLETE REBUILD OF ITS INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY STRUCTURE

In order to compete economically, NatureFresh Farms invested in a complete rebuild of its information technology structure to be more operationally efficient. In doing so, the company saw an immediate impact across its operations.

“Energy costs have been dramatically reduced and quality and yield have improved due to the full automation of the greenhouses. It’s a great example of multiple technologies put together in order to produce a much lower cost of production and much higher quality product,” said McGrath.

“We are very pleased to be recognized by the Information Technology Association of Canada for this prestigious award,” said Peter Quiring, owner and president.

“The diversity of technologies needed to bring NatureFresh Farms to where we are today makes us a leading, and innovative business. As an example, we implemented traceability technology by barcoding every vegetable we grow before it was a legislative requirement, and this was just the start.”

IMMEDIATE RETURNS ON ITS INVESTMENT

By implementing new technologies across all facets of the operation, NatureFresh saw immediate returns on its investment. Given the size of its operation across multiple sites in two different countries, the company needed real time access to support its teams. The technology gave NatureFresh growers direct access to their crops via smartphone or tablet.

“Our information technology overhaul touched all aspects of NatureFresh Farms,” said IT manager Keith Bradley, “from our sales and administrative teams who were provided with new and more reliable tools that could be remotely controlled, updated or fixed, to the production line that was handling the product directly.

Warehouse staff and forklift operators were also provided with tablets to monitor orders in real time to the packing teams that had a whole new set of technologies to improve the picking, packing and sorting of our produce.

“This was a monumental shift for the organization,” said Bradley.

CREATING CONVERSATIONS WITH CONSUMERS

“From a consumer perspective, how we use technology to help grow our vegetables helped us create conversations with hundreds of people each week when touring our mobile Greenhouse Education Centre (GEC),” said Chris Veillon, director of marketing.

The GEC is equipped with technology developed by PRIVA that enables NatureFresh growers to monitor plant health on the trailer from anywhere in the world.

From watering to plant nutrition to greenhouse roof venting, all are controlled remotely by a smartphone app. The use of technology has not only improved overall connectivity to its growing operations; it also leveraged the opportunity for greater data collection and knowledge sharing across the company.

Reducing operational costs is the goal while increasing overall quality to the customer.

ABOUT NATURE FRESH FARMS

NatureFresh Farms has grown to become one of the largest independent, vertically integrated greenhouse vegetable growers in North America. It has growing facilities in Leamington, Ontario, and Delta, Ohio.

To learn more about NatureFresh™ Farms, visit naturefresh.ca.

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