Digital harvest helper

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During harvest time, farmers often have to hire seasonal workers. Although such additional workers certainly expedite the work that needs to be done in the fields, they add to farmers' administrative overhead. This is because farmers have to keep careful records of their employees' worktime and use them in paying their employees' wages. While most farms still use paper time sheets to keep such records, the "Krewelshof," a Rhineland farm, has gone digital: with a mobile worktime-recording system from MobilZeit, a Deutsche Telekom partner.

When his apples, asparagus or pumpkins ripen, Theo Bieger needs help. Bieger, the farmer who runs the Krewelshof farm, has locations in Enzen (a little town in the Eifel mountains) and in Lohmar (near Cologne), and those locations include a fruit and vegetable farm, a cheese dairy and a bakery, a shop, a café and a play barn. Each year, Bieger employs more than 200 persons, in various employment relationships ranging from "mini jobs" with no social security contributions to seasonal jobs at harvest time. Administrating all of the different types of employment involved is a major challenge, especially as a result of new laws pertaining to minimum wages and working time.

Since 2014, instead of recording his harvest helpers' worktime the old way, on paper time sheets, Bieger has been using a mobile time-recording system provided by Deutsche Telekom and its partner MobilZeit. The system consists of a time-recording device that is no larger than a cell phone and includes a display and a keypad. The device is combined with a Deutsche Telekom SIM card and evaluation software. Each employee carries a gray chip on his or her keyring while on the job. The chip is an RFID (radio frequency identification) transponder that can be read out contactlessly. At the beginning and end of his workday, each employee holds their chip up to the recording device, and the device automatically reads out the time data and allocates it to the pertinent predefined worktime category (= cost center). The data are sent to a central computer, via Deutsche Telekom's mobile network, and provided directly to farmer Bieger via the system's evaluation software. In addition to enabling Bieger to meet his record-keeping obligations under the minimum-wage law, the system enhances his business management: Each employee's worktime is assigned to a defined, appropriate cost center. This, in turn, enables Bieger to calculate and view his labor costs and profits in useful relationships to harvest units.

More efficiency – lower costs
The system also warns Bieger, with an acoustic signal, whenever an employee is nearing the maximum allowed 70-day work period. In addition to keeping track of regular worktime and breaks, the system also records weekend, holiday and project-related worktime. Such automatic allocation greatly facilitates Bieger's task of correctly calculating wages. And it saves the Krewelshof farm the considerable time that manual bookkeeping in this area would normally require. "It's difficult to imagine how an operation as large as ours could possibly meet its minimum-wage-related record-keeping obligations without the new time-recording system," Theo Bieger reports. "And the system keeps us on top of our own key figures." The mobile time-recording system can be combined with position-location systems. The Krewelshof has taken advantage of this option by equipping its harvesters with "M-Boxes" from MobilZeit. The M-Boxes tell Bieger where each of his vehicles is at any given time, thereby helping him to optimize his deliveries to sales stands and markets. Now MobilZeit is working with the Krewelshof farm to upgrade the software in keeping with modern agricultural requirements. The next step: to simplify payroll accounting by integrating interfaces to Datev (a provider of technical information services for tax and accounting purposes) within the time-recording programs.