How the Liberty16 PCR tool boosted the mental health of the Taylor Corp team

Taylor Corporation Ltd is a family owned and operated apple growing, packing and exporting company located in New Zealand's Hawkes Bay. The company was launched in 1995 by Kelvin and Lynette Taylor. Their daughters Claire and Natalie and son Cameron, along with their respective spouses, are all involved in running the business. Like many fruit-growing organisations, the Taylors rely on the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme to provide them with the labour they need during the busy picking and packing season, which runs from the beginning of March until mid-June. During this time, the Taylor's workforce jumps from 80 employees to 300. In 2022, the beginning of the harvest was complicated by an outbreak of the Covid-19 variant Omicron, which meant additional stress for the Taylors in terms of production, meeting stringent government regulations and most importantly, the health and well-being of their workforce.

The challenge: overcoming the chaos of Covid19 interruption while keeping up production

For obvious reasons, the majority of an apple orchard's team can't work from home. For the pickers, keeping socially distanced while out in the orchards isn't much of an issue, but inside the packhouse it's another story. Not only must they abide by strict government regulations, they also have to manage the impact on their packhouse staff. "It's made people wary of each other now, wondering, ooh, has he got Covid or not," says Kelvin Taylor. "People really keep their distance, and the pressure's definitely gone up on everyone. They're all worried about the future."

Kelvin's son Cameron agrees that the mental health of their workforce has been one of their biggest challenges this season. "The stress. Two years ago, I wasn't grey, put it that way," he says. "Looking after the mental health of our staff has been a huge challenge, probably our biggest."

Because many of the RSE workers come from Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu, they're accommodated on the Taylor's farm during the season. What that means is the Taylors are responsible for their pastoral care for the duration of the apple season, not just 9-5. "Our people are our greatest asset," says Kelvin. "We need so many of them and we've really got to look after them and make them feel that they're secure."

The social distancing regulations for the packhouse also meant that the Taylor's workforce was essentially halved, which seriously impacted their productivity. "We had half of them at home on that wages subsidy, and the other half working. Those were tough decisions to make," Cameron explains. "The ones that were working - we had some unhappy people. They were worried about putting their families and flatmates at risk. Some of the RSE workers have been stuck here for three years - they haven't seen their families - and that's really tough on them. We're not counsellors - nor are our orchard managers - and dealing with all this has been really, really hard."

With the mental health of not only their workforce but also themselves at risk, the Taylors wondered what they could do to bring down the stress factor that was being exacerbated by Omicron. It was then that Napier Port, a company responsible for the trade of international goods to and from the North Island, told the Taylors about PCR testing tool Liberty16, which they were using themselves. Being able to conduct regular tests, with the ability to identify any infected person swiftly, was clearly a good way to reduce the stress on their teams.

The solution: swift PCR testing provides peace of mind

Napier Port provided a demonstration for the Taylors, who then purchased their first Liberty16 unit. It's a handheld PCR tool that in partnership with SalivaDirectTM is a non-invasive yet accurate method of screening for Covid-19. Similar to Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT), the Liberty16 unit delivers test results quickly. However, because of the Liberty16's PCR functionality, the test results are more accurate and akin to those performed in a lab.

"It's a big relief when the test shows that someone's clear, it's a good feeling," says Cameron. "It really reduces people's stress." Kelvin goes on to say that early identification has also been a key factor in lowering stress levels. "We can pick it up early, before it spreads," he explains. "The sooner we catch it, the sooner we can isolate that person."

"It's about keeping up that surveillance," Cameron adds. "We try to stay a step ahead. If we can detect it early on, we'll only lose one worker, but if it spreads we could lose so many more."

The Taylors purchased their first Liberty16 unit in December 2021, and since then have bought a second one. "We're testing everyone every second day," says Kelvin. "300 is a lot to get through, so we brought another one on board."

The result: swift detection is a weight off everyone's mind

The Taylors found the Liberty16 onboarding process simple and easy. "The guys from Ubiquitome came down and spent a couple of days with us," Cameron recalls. "They got us going, it was really good. They kept it very focused, and it was pretty easy." Kelvin goes on to note the quality of the onsite training, and that they're now in the process of interviewing technicians to continue the testing with both units.

A key outcome for the Taylors is the positive effect regular testing is having on their staff. "With a couple of exceptions, everyone's on board," says Cameron. "It's made a big difference, they're all really happy. Our people are so important, and this is a key way we can look after them."

"People feel good when they get tested and know they haven't been infected," Kelvin continues. "They get on with their work again knowing they'll be tested again in a couple of days, and that really takes the stress away from them. We're getting back to some kind of normal."

When asked if they had any advice for other fruit growers considering PCR testing, Cameron says the process can seem daunting, but it actually runs smoothly. "Buy two or three months ahead of yourself," he says. "It's a very important tool to have in your toolbox."

"All packhouses should have them," Kelvin adds. "Not only do you need to protect your staff, but if Covid gets into our packhouses, it could affect our international export markets. It's important to keep Covid out of your packhouses as long as you can.".



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