Safety protocols in place for farmers’ grain deliveries

Grain moving as normal, but farmers need to practice social distancing when delivering to elevators

(File photo by Dave Bedard)

Grain deliveries to country elevators should continue without any disruptions, the executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association says.

“All of the members of the Western Grain Elevator Association are doing everything in their power to keep the grain supply chain functioning” during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Wade Sobkowich said Tuesday.

“That means we’ll continue to take farmer deliveries, but there will be some differences when the farmer delivers to the country elevators in how he or she interacts with the elevator staff.”

When you arrive at the elevator to deliver grain, you may be asked to stay inside your vehicle if you’re feeling ill or if you’ve been in contact with someone who is sick. Some elevators might ask you to stay inside your vehicle, regardless of how you’re feeling.

Either way, farmers should avoid entering the receiving office, said Sobkowich. Many elevators are operating with a skeleton crew right now and others have put procedures in place to ensure workers maintain the proper distance from each other.

“That keeps employees at safe distances from each other, and it also allows workers to be kept in the wings in case somebody falls ill and they need to be replaced by another worker who is trained and skilled at that particular function,” he said.

Any load receipts, he said, would be brought out to the truck.

“Those types of procedures are being implemented throughout the grain supply chain in order to keep people safe and to keep grain flowing,” said Sobkowich, adding each elevator’s protocols might differ slightly.

“Each company is taking a look at it and trying to implement procedures, but it’s fluid. It’s evolving over time as we learn more and as circumstances change.”

Parrish and Heimbecker, for example, said last week it would be “limiting the amount of customers at our location(s)” and asking farmers making deliveries to remain in their trucks wherever possible. Effective Monday it added a “locked-door policy” for its elevator offices.

The company’s locations are still operating, but grain cheques are now being put in the mail daily and farmers visiting P+H locations are now asked to call ahead to discuss methods to deliver grain, make payments or pick up or drop off seed or inputs.

Cargill’s Prairie grain elevators and ag retail sites are still open, but the offices at those sites are closed to walk-in traffic and farmers are asked to call ahead to co-ordinate deliveries and pickups.

Paterson Grain elevators are also still open but staff are “eliminating all but the most critical face-to-face meetings with customers,” CEO Andrew Paterson said on the company’s website.

Changes in company policy may cause delays when delivering grain, but so far things are going smoothly, Sobkowich said.

“I haven’t heard of any delays yet,” he said. “In the month of March, we’ve been moving a lot of grain trying to recover from the blockades, but that’s not to say there haven’t been delays when it comes to producer deliveries.”

That could change if supply chain workers are forced to stay at home, he added.

“If there is a place where the grain supply chain is going to start to show delays, it’s going to be workers refusing to come to work,” he said.

“The government has been making it known that it wants people to stay at home — but it needs to be clear that the grain supply chain is critical. It’s very important that the language coming out of the provincial governments and the federal government be clear that, if grain is essential, these workers need to work with these new safety protocols that are being implemented.

“We’re operating on the basis that we are essential and that, when the government tells the people to stay at home, they’re not talking about critical people in the supply chain.”

— Jennifer Blair reports for Alberta Farmer from Sylvan Lake. Includes files from Glacier FarmMedia Network staff.

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