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Data – a vital business input

Technology & Data

Collecting data may be time-consuming but, as Sarah Dunn from Battunga Orchards in West Gippsland shares, it can deliver significant cost savings and is vital in helping make good business decisions for long-term profitability.

In an orchard, data collection can mean recording all daily activities including spraying, pruning, thinning, fruit measuring, pest monitoring, general maintenance, goods received, expenses, packout information and the list goes on.

Sarah Dunn has been working at Battunga Orchards for six years and joined the team to focus on collecting a range of data and then understanding and reporting her findings. She now produces Battunga Orchards’ Annual Production Report which is used by orchard owner Laurie Thompson and Production Manager Mark Trzaskoma to determine what each block is costing; how much profit they’re making; the tasks undertaken throughout the year; and a break-down of costs per bin.

When Sarah joined the team there was minimal information collected and used to improve business efficiencies. Just one year on, the ability to identify opportunities for cost cutting has delivered significant savings, with costs in some operations halved. “After the first year of collection we recognised that certain tasks were costing too much money and we required a large workforce to complete them – we had to find a better, more efficient way that would improve our bottom line,” Sarah said.

“The introduction of platforms has had a dramatic change on our workplace efficiency, in some instances we’ve seen more than a 50 per cent reduction in the cost of these tasks, which is money better spent on other things.

“We might have had 60 to 70 people in the orchard on ladders so that’s where platforms were introduced. It makes you think ‘OK that’s pruning and thinning, what about harvest?’

“Ultimately we’d like to use the platforms for harvest work too.”

Sarah was shortlisted for both the APAL Awards for Excellence and Hort Connections Combined Industry Awards for Excellence in 2018 for her work on the business.

Sarah Dunn collects, records and analyses data across 58 categories for Battunga Orchards, helping the business make more informed decisions and save money.

Finding the right tools

Currently, Sarah manually records data for 58 categories across the business and then enters it into an Excel spreadsheet. “Excel is the main program we use because we haven’t found another one that ticks all our boxes. It’s obviously a lot of collection, a lot of work and not the most efficient system you can use but that’s what we currently do,” Sarah said.

“We are always looking for something that might be a bit more appropriate but are yet to find that one package that can do everything.”

Aside from Excel, Sarah also uses the MYOB business software program and enters orchard performance data into the online database OrchardNet®. She also uses Orchard Business Analysis reports to benchmark the business against the ‘model’ industry orchard.

Sarah is currently on the search for an orchard and business management program that offers the complete package accompanied by smart phone technology where information and data can be recorded through an app. “We’ve had a few conversations with businesses offering elements of what we’re after but it’s hard to get them to take on all the aspects we require,” Sarah said.

Platforms have replaced ladders for pruning at Battunga Orchards after the team realised just how inefficient ladders were for the task.

Data makes you accountable

There’s no question that data can help growers to make more informed decisions rather than guessing and leaving decisions to chance. It’s also valuable in planning for future business growth and  development.

“You can’t just rely on what you see happening in your business or what you might read,” Sarah said. “This can certainly be helpful, but to have actual numbers to measure performance is much more powerful, that proof is obvious in the reports we’ve been producing over the past six years.”

So, if you’re looking to implement one change in your business this year, why not look at the data you’re currently collecting, determine something you’d really like to know and go out and collect that information on a daily, weekly or monthly basis – you might be surprised with what you find!


Many thanks to Sarah Dunn from Battunga Orchards for sharing her knowledge and time.

We’d like to hear from you! Have you found an effective data collection and management system that records all areas and aspects of your business? Or, what would you like to see in your dream data collection program? Contact Richelle Zealley on or 0438 364 728 with your suggestions.

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