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Guido van het Hof, Great Northern, Ontario:

"HortiMaX Productive crucial for making educated decisions in real-time"

Great Northern in Ontario, Canada, is a successful tomato producer in a competitive and fast-growing market. Key to their success is not only the fact that they stand out from the competition, but also their cost-effective operational management. Investing in new systems has contributed to this success, because ‘to stand still is to fall behind’ as they say. One of these systems is HortiMaX Productive, which allows growers to make considered management decisions based on the most up-to-date information. We talked to Guido van het Hof about greenhouse management systems.

Guido van het Hof of Great Northern

Quite a challenge

Guido van het Hof, President and General Manager of Great Northern, is responsible for the production of cocktail, cherry, beef and on-the-vine tomatoes on a 64-acre growing area, consisting of a 49-acre double poly greenhouse and a 15-acre glasshouse, with around 200 permanent staff: "With so many growers in close proximity to one another, running a successful business here can be quite a challenge. The key is to stand out from the competition. We do so, first of all, by offering a versatile packaging solution. Using modern top sealing machines, we're able to provide our products with private or store brand labels. What also sets us apart is the fact that we supply unique and high-quality products for the niche market. Thanks to our supplementary lighting system, we're the only tomato nursery in Ontario that can supply supermarkets with tomatoes all year round. That's why our customers keep coming back."

Working with clipboards?

We began using a labor and production registration system around 2003. The systems back then weren't as user-friendly as they are today. Even though it was an intelligent system at the time, both the hardware and software were rather unreliable and it was all still pretty amateurish. That's why we decided to go back to a paper system with clipboards. Doing so was a very time-consuming process that involved collecting time sheets, processing the information in computer spreadsheets, and finally doing the payroll calculations by hand. This made paying wages especially stressful. And the fact that information was collected retrospectively made it impossible to take quick action when necessary."

The right choice after 5 years of limitations

Van het Hof continues: "A paper system has its limitations. After five years of doing everything by hand, we decided to look for a new automated system. We wanted a system with a stable wired connection, because wireless equipment tends to be problematic in a greenhouse environment. Our choice was limited. We opted for HortiMaX, because their solutions provides both real-time data and direct system feedback. This allows us to monitor our operations closely throughout the day. HortiMaX was also the only supplier able to easily interface their solution with our ERP system and payroll administration, cutting down on a lot of paperwork. That was already back in 2008."

To stand still is to fall behind

"But to stand still is to fall behind in our sector", says van het Hof and points out that they didn't have to think long about investing in the updated version of P-Plus: HortiMaX Productive. "The whole system is now even easier to use and more tailored to our needs. For example, we have more options for creating reports with control information. In addition, the integration with external systems is also a lot more flexible. This makes connecting equipment that requires data input (such as extra sealing machines) a breeze. My relationship with the HortiMaX team is such that they can quickly make the modifications I need. Customer support doesn't get any better than this. It allows me to implement the improvements I have in my head without a lot of administrative hassle."

Managing costs and worker schedules

"Labor and production registration is essential for us to succeed in this highly competitive market with American and Mexican growers. Although our packaging capabilities are what set us apart, we're very aware of the need to manage our costs effectively. HortiMaX Productive allows us to monitor our operational performance and make adjustments where necessary. With a mere press of a button, we can check worker schedules, crop row data, production levels and productivity figures. We're also able to trace back revenues and costs at every level: by variety, by packaging and by crop. This gives a detailed picture of our current performance, which we can compare to previous years or other periods of time. Another reason why we chose Productive is the tracking and tracing feature: a key requirement in today's market. This feature helps us comply with the SQF (Safe Quality Foods) standards."

"We're also a company that is frequently involved in trials for new innovations. You must be able to monitor those trials in real-time, so you can stop them quickly if they're not yielding the desired results. This requires the right data, so you can make well-considered decisions. We've always had high expectations of this product and HortiMaX has been very successful at meeting those expectations. In particular, their personal service and responsiveness to our needs are exceptional." Van het Hof concludes by saying: "I can't wait for the Productive iPad app to be launched. It is exactly what we need and will certainly help us to improve further!'

For more information:
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