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Values, safety protocols help avoid COVID-19 disruptions at Riverview

Progressive Dairy Editor Dave Natzke Published on 13 July 2020
Safety protocols

Core organizational values and enhanced employee health monitoring helped one of the largest dairies in the U.S. avoid work disruptions due to COVID-19.

Riverview LLP is a dairy and beef production company headquartered in Morris, Minnesota. It has operations in five states: Arizona, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico and South Dakota. The company’s dairy operations include about 100,000 cows and 1,300 employees.

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Kevin Wulf, who handles community relations and education for Riverview, discussed the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on dairy operations and markets with Charleston|Orwig CEO Mark Gale in a recent “Five in 15” webcast, “Supply Chain, Disrupted: Insights from Dairy Farming’s Frontlines”.

In the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, Riverview recognized the coronavirus had the potential to cause work disruptions. In response, the company implemented several additional employee health protocols as part of its company-wide “Be Safe” program. Those steps included social distancing, installing more stations for hand sanitizing and taking worker temperatures prior to their work shift.

Wulf’s personal responsibilities of providing worker training and professional and personal development were suspended for more than two months to reduce the potential of COVID spread due to human-to-human contact.

Wulf said the COVID protocols were an outgrowth of two longstanding core values: keeping employees safe while efficiently managing production costs.

Riverview actually began tracking worker health patterns a couple of years ago, focusing on its Southwest operations in Arizona and New Mexico. By monitoring when employees got sick, the company was able to predict when additional workers might be needed. They discovered “bubbles” in spring and fall when additional employees were necessary to provide daily milking, cow care and herd health needs.

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To date, Riverview has had no cases of COVID-19, despite the unique locations and mix of employees at some of its sites. For example, Riverview’s dairy in Wilcox, Arizona, is located within 45 minutes of the U.S.-Mexico border, and about 50 employees make the commute across the border to work and back every day.

With the additional health protocols in place, daily operations have mostly been “business as usual,” Wulf said. Responsibilities of milking, feeding and breeding cows have been carried out without interruption.

Beyond the potential impact on employee health and availability, Riverview has been able to overcome other potential disruptions from COVID-19.

MilkingRegardless of location, 100% of Riverview’s milk goes into cheese production, a segment of the dairy industry heavily impacted with the closure of food service outlets. The three Southwest dairies (two in Arizona and one in New Mexico) were required to cut milk marketings by 10% to address the supply chain disruptions, with sharp milk price deductions on any milk produced above that level.

Most of the reduced production was achieved through ration adjustments and increased culling. Communicating and working closely with processors, Riverview was able to avoid dumping milk. As the food service industry slowly reopens, the 10% milk marketing reduction has not gone away, although price reductions have become less severe.

Looking ahead, some but not all of the health and worker safety protocols implemented due to COVID-19 will become a permanent part of Riverview’s “Be Safe” program. Those include social distancing and a focus on general cleanliness and hand washing.

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Other, more drastic steps, like elimination of face-to-face meetings and training, are not likely to remain, he said. Some of Wulf’s training and employee development activities have already resumed, with additional attention to social distancing.

“We want to be careful, but we don’t like operating out of fear,” Wulf explained. “We value the personal connection time we can spend together. Video chats are great and you can get communications sent across the airways, but it’s hard doing relationships long term that way. We want to get that community and family feel back by having people physically in the same room.”

The company’s farm tours, currently suspended, will eventually resume but be limited to drive-thru activities.  end mark

PHOTOS: With about 1,300 dairy employees, the COVID-19 pandemic had the potential to disrupt critical feeding, cow care and milking processes at Riverview’s multisite, multistate dairy facilities. In the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, the company implemented several additional employee health protocols to keep workers safe and milk flowing. These scenes are from Riverview’s Arizona dairies. Photos courtesy of Riverview LLP.

Charleston|Orwig’s “Five in 15” webcasts are part of the agency’s “Food, Farms & the Future” series and feature conversations with industry leaders on current topics affecting agriculture and food. The 15-minute webcasts are designed to identify five useful tips for ag and food producers to consider implementing in their own farms and businesses. For more information, visit CharlestonlOrwig.

Dave Natzke
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