Founded in 1941, the Carolina Blueberry Association is the oldest farmer-owned cooperative in North Carolina. Based in Garland, N.C., the co-op’s 24 growers bring fresh and frozen blueberries to stores across North America. In an effort to comply with the 2008 Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), the company deployed new printer systems to increase throughput and label reliability.
Before the new system, farms had been taping paper labels on pallets and, in some cases, handwriting lot numbers in spiral notebooks. When evaluating alternatives, the association wanted to select one system that could accommodate the range of size and packing operations across its member base. After installing a unified PTI-compliant software system, the solution was coupled with low-maintenance industrial printers (Zebra, zebra.com).
From mid-May to mid-July each year, association members pack and distribute around 600,000 flats of blueberries. Farmers are understandably concerned about anything that might slow down the packing line. “We needed modern traceability measures, but it had to be something easy for farmers to learn,” says Rod Bangert, general manager. “They work 16- to 20-hour days for eight weeks, so they were concerned about messing up their production cycles. Many of our growers were nervous with anything computer-related, but the new program did not cause us to slow down one bit.”
The new printers allow growers to flexibly change labeling based on the size of the product they are packaging, typically from 6 ounces up to 2 pounds. Some run a single line while others run several. With the complete solution, association members create a visible value chain of their product that benefits growers and retailers. Along with complying with the PTI, farms now have a digital record of their physical operations, helping them track production and shipments.
“Some of the growers are using the system to monitor production in specific fields or by variety,” Bangert said. “With an accurate record, they can limit their exposure in the event of a recall and remove the affected products from the supply chain.”